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COUNSELING PART OF THE PLAN GIS GET HELP FITTING INTO SOCIETY AGAIN.

Byline: Rachel Uranga and Grace Lee Staff Writer

Thousands of servicemen and women returning to the Southland from Operation Iraqi Freedom may have difficulty adjusting to peacetime, and many might benefit from mandatory counseling like that ordered by the Army this week, experts said.

Under the Army program, returning soldiers would be required to participate in an intensive five-day re-entry program aimed at easing them into homelife. No other branch of the U.S. military now requires such mandatory counseling.

``It's a great wives' tale to go on with your life and forget about it,'' said James Dwyer, chief of Post Traumatic Stress Services for Veterans Affairs in the Los Angeles area. ``For most trauma survivors, it doesn't work.''

The hundreds of Marines reservists of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Corps headquartered in Encino, for example, will be given a two-hour briefing on assimilating back into family life, said Bryan Driver, spokesman for the Personal and Family Readiness Division of the Marine Corps. They will be offered counseling should they seek it out, he said. Voluntary counseling also is available to the roughly 900 Seabees and E-2 Naval Squadron members deployed from Naval Base Ventura County-Port Hueneme and Point Mugu and their families, said Vance Vasquez, spokesman for the base.

The Army's mandatory Deployment Cycle Support Program, unveiled Thursday, is being praised as a model that other military branches should emulate, experts said.

``It's probably really needed and necessary,'' Dwyer said.

For some returning from deployment, lingering stresses can result in depression, withdrawal, drug and alcohol abuse, divorce or worse. Speedy intervention is key to recovery, Dwyer said.

``(Returning soldiers) feel crazy, and they don't have an understanding why. When you let them know that post-traumatic stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, it normalizes it. It takes away the stigma,'' Dwyer said. Mandating the program forces soldiers - who might otherwise shun the program - to cope with the stress of combat.

The Army's program follows a series of slayings of soldiers' wives at Fort Bragg, N.C., last summer that spurred fears that troops returning from Afghanistan were having difficulty readjusting to being home.

It requires returning soldiers to remain on the base for up to two weeks before embarking on leave.

During that time, they take postwar stress-management classes, suicide awareness training and undergo medical screenings. It melds with existing family programs and offers a 24-hour assistance line.

``We are trying not to let anyone slip through the cracks,'' said Chaplain Glen Bloomstrom, director of ministry initiatives for chief of chaplains of the U.S. Army.

``The purpose is to promote caring, supportive relationships and to make sure that our soldiers get back to their family in a healthy manner,'' he said.

For Jody Sabol, volunteer coordinator for Encino reservists, the Army's new policy is not entirely realistic.

Acknowledging the advantages of counseling, Sabol stressed that problems are more likely to arise after members of the military have been home for a while.

And it would be difficult for her to delay seeing her husband - a Marine captain who will return to Camp Pendleton on Sunday, after three months away from home.

``I know he'll go through a readjustment stage, and I have the confidence I can be there for him and stand by him,'' she said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 17, 2003
Words:550
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