Sunday, March 1, 2009

Montana National Guard's proactive PTSD program becoming national model

Montana National Guard's proactive PTSD program becoming national model
By ERIC NEWHOUSE • Tribune Projects Editor • March 1, 2009

HELENA — Two years after former Army Spc. Chris Dana committed suicide after struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, the Montana National Guard is spending approximately half a million dollars a year to make combat deployments easier for its soldiers and their families.

The Montana Guard's Yellow Ribbon program has become a model that the rest of America should adopt, said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

"We're getting terrific responses to the program from the families of our soldiers, but also some great suggestions," said Col. Jeff Ireland, chief of manpower and personnel for the Montana Guard. "For instance, we were told it would be useful to have a special breakout session for spouses.

Ireland said officials believe the session was a great idea.

"We plan to act on it and other suggestions until we meet all the needs we're aware of," he added.

With the approval and funding of the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., the Montana National Guard is adding five positions and spending approximately $500,000 to fund the Yellow Ribbon program, Ireland said.

The core of the program is twofold: mental health assessments every six months after deployment and crisis response teams that can be activated immediately to check out concerns about the emotional wellbeing of a soldier.

"The genius of the Montana screening model is that it happens every six months," Matt Kuntz, Dana's stepbrother, told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last week during testimony in Washington.
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