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Minnesota National Guard
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Pilot program established to help National Guard Soldiers with reintegration

With Minnesotan National Guard men and women returning from tours abroad, a pilot program to reintegrate those persons into everyday life has taken shape, poised for national implementation

"It is an amazing program," commented Dr Jim Torkildson, Site Director for Lakeland Mental Health Center in Detroit Lakes "We have participated in a variety of specialized training opportunities and have been involved in the 30 and 60 day reintegration programs that took place at Minnesota State University Moorhead ( MSUM)

The program, called "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon," is named as a reminder that the support of Soldiers cannot end when they return from deployment and the yellow ribbons are untied, remarked Torkildson

The pilot program came to be, added Torkildson, as a result of a number of key entities coming together, uniting the Minnesota National Guard, TriWest Healthcare Alliance (a private company that contracts with the Department of Defense to provide health care for Soldiers), and the Veterans' Administration to create a forum to help Soldiers returning from tours abroad reintegrate into their communities

According to a Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health report this past summer, "38 percent of Soldiers and 31 percent of marines report psychological symptoms Among members of the National Guard, the figure rises to 49 percent"

Programs such as "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" are aimed to bridge the gaps identified by the Mental Health Task Force Report through the combined efforts of military and non-military healthcare professionals

To date, about 1,500 Soldiers went through the training between 2005 and 2006, and another 2,600 who returned in July after serving in Iraq are in the process, Minnesota Deputy State Chaplain Lt. Col. John Morris said in a Minnesota National Guard News release

Talking to the Department of Veterans Affairs, mental health experts, Soldiers and missionaries, Chaplain Morris helped coordinate a new program, in which various mental healthcare specialists provide on-site consultation, referrals and training for local guard personnel returning from conflict zones

"There was no research on the reintegration of Soldiers or families "¦ nothing on how to put your life back together," Morris said in the release

A main part of the Minnesota pilot program is to gather Soldiers back together at designated 30-day increments upon demobilization, providing them information on combat stress and trauma treatment as well as available counseling services for parenting, anger management, marriage and divorce with mental health personnel on site to distribute information and explain support services being offered

The next step in "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" will be to embed healthcare specialists into the units themselves, helping them to be better able to treat Soldiers they know and have seen before

"We wanted to be able to aid our troops in getting the help they need to successfully return from their assignments, many of which were combat related, and reintegrate them into the communities from which they came," explained Torkildson, a Vietnam-era veteran himself

Now a pilot program, the VA is looking at rolling out this program across the nation, added Torkildson

Lakeland Mental Health Center (LMHC), is part of Minnesota's unique reintegration programm with Jim Torkildson EdD, LP and Eric Smemo LICSW recently attending the 60-day reintegration gathering held at MSUM on Oct 27 of this year

"We have learned a lot over the years, and this program puts many of those reintegration lessons into practice," said Torkildson "The MSUM gathering was a useful tool in helping our local National Guard successfully re-enter their daily lives"

The next "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" reintegration event, the 90-day installment of the program, will be held at Camp Ripley on Dec 14-16

"I've attended specialized training called Combat-Related Behavioral Health for this program, which was very beneficial," commented Torkildson

Since 1949, LMHC's purpose has been to help clients improve their lives and the lives of those they love In partnership with the communities in which they are located, their experienced staff includes psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family counselors, chemical dependency counselors, clinical nurse specialists and mental health counselors

"We offer traditional therapy services such a marriage counseling, parenting and anger management services through our clinic to help people and Soldiers reduce stress and strengthen personal/family relationships," said Torkildson

LMHC has locations in Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Glenwood and Moorhead For more information locally, call 847-1676 The Detroit Lakes Lakeland Mental Health Center is located at 714 Washington Ave

Jackie Jenson
Article source: http://www.dl-online.com/articles/index.cfm?id=32227§ion=news

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