Around two million members of the military have been deployed since terror struck American soil on September 11, 2001.
A little more than a decade later, one suicide attempt is reported every 36 hours by military members, while 9 percent experience depression and/or post traumatic stress disorder during or directly after deployment. At 27 percent, more go through these struggles 90-180 days after deployment.
National Guardsmen and women have been affected, too, as 22 percent reportedly abuse alcohol, 19 percent drive under the influence, 29 percent have financial problems, while 12 and 5 percent report feeling lonely and having suicidal thoughts, respectively.
“National Guard members do not have access to VA services unless they meet certain requirements,” said military veteran Kory Deling of North Branch. “Not every veteran, National Guardsman or military family knows how to get the help, services and benefits they need and are entitled to.”
Deling shared these statistics, insights and more during a special presentation at Community Partnership’s quarterly meeting of the Partners for a Drug Free Chisago County on Thursday morning, July 19 at the North Branch AmericInn. He discussed the area’s new VetCorps action team and how it can help veterans along with their families.
As prevention coordinator for the local VetCorps project, Deling said it aims to enhance the well-being and psychological health of veterans and the military family by ensuring substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery services are available to them. The initiative started about a year ago in response to the number of veterans struggling with drugs and alcohol and other issues after coming home from deployment.
Receptive to Deling’s presentation was 10th Judicial District Judge Robert Rancourt who said he sees veterans in the courtroom due to struggles with drugs and alcohol, violent crimes and other issues. He even invited Deling to a judge’s meeting to spread the word about VetCorps.
Community Partnership Executive Director Tom Koplitz noted he heard that 52 percent of the service men and women deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq have been “citizen soldiers” from the National Guard who didn’t think deployment and coming back with problems would happen upon signing up.
Another in attendance talked about the growing number of Vietnam War veterans who are now retiring and need help due in part to declining health.
“We’ve had veterans ask for vouchers for hotel stays,” added Jim Johnson, commander of North Branch Legion Post 85. He suggested putting Deling’s business cards at the Legion for veterans to consider.
“There’s a big need to help our military people who don’t always know where to get help,” Deling told his audience of some 15-20 people. “That’s why I want to help guide them to those programs and services that they need. Hopefully I can help with the knowledge that I have.”
Deling grew up in Ceylon, Minn., a small town out in the country in Martin County where he graduated from high school in 1994. An active duty member of the U.S. Air Force from 1996-2000, he supported many military operations — from Desert Fox to the diplomatic Cap Stone Mission of ‘98 — through deployments in the European, Pacific, Middle and Southeast Asian theatres.
Deling was named the 319th Air Generation Squadron’s Gold Flight Airman of the Year in 1998 due in large part to his community service activity with Airmen Against Drunk Driving and work with a flood relief effort the previous year. In fact, he is a disabled veteran from an injury sustained while sandbagging on the Red River in Grand Forks, N.D., during his tour of duty in 1997.
Today, Deling will be working with Community Partnership with Youth and Families in North Branch to connect more Minnesota veterans, military members and their families with needed resources.
And he can’t do it alone, he acknowledged, so he is looking to recruit volunteers and find other community organizations to help create a network and safety net of support — similar to that found on military bases.
One goal, he presented, is to connect with groups such as Beyond the Yellow Ribbon to provide support and a possible Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign for Chisago County.
Meet the action team
The VetCorps project is being conducted by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America in partnership with the National Guard Bureau’s Prevention, Treatment and Outreach program with funding aid from the Corporation for National and Community Service.
With room for a few more members, the local VetCorps action team includes Koplitz, Chisago County Veterans Service Officer Al Budde, Isanti County Veterans Service Officer Jim Rostberg, Sgt. First Class Christine Dawson of the National Guard, Staff Sergeant Josh Markfort of the National Guard, Private First Class Sirrina Martinez of the National Guard, Robin Fiene of the Minnesota Department of Revenue and Alicia De Nio of the Military Family Assistance Center.
Deling further hopes to generate higher interest from community businesses and civic and volunteer groups in assisting local veterans and military families by focusing on access to health care and health care services, economic opportunities (housing and employment) and service roles for more veterans.
The community can help by volunteering, donating goods and services, referring veterans and military families in need, generating ideas and spreading word of the initiative.
For more information on VetCorps, volunteering and what’s being done locally, call Deling at 651-674-4085 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.