Arciero Legislation to Assist Veterans with PTSD in State Colleges and Universities

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State Rep. James Arciero, an eight-year member of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, announced recently the filing of legislation to assist active duty service personnel and veterans in state colleges and universities suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“As a member of a military family, I know firsthand the challenges faced by those brave women and men who have worn the uniform of the United States when they return from their service overseas,” said Arciero, whose brother and brother-in-law served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The legislation, a collaborative effort with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, seeks to implement a continuing education program to train clinical and non-clinical counselors at state colleges and universities to recognize and assist veteran students in dealing with the various issues related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in active duty and veteran students.

“With 2,500 student veterans enrolled and all of our undergraduate campuses ranked Military Friendly Schools, UMass is committed to support services for student veterans,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “Through this legislation, UMass can expand that support to student veterans throughout public higher education in Massachusetts by providing specialized training in PTSD for counselors. We thank Representative Arciero, a proud UMass alum, for his leadership on this issue.”

Since the passage of the federal Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act in 2008, commonly known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the enrollment of active duty service members and veterans in colleges and universities has increased substantially, especially in New England.  According to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 750,000 veterans have utilized their earned benefit to enroll in postsecondary courses in the last decade.

“The University of Massachusetts Medical School is actively engaged in patient care, teaching and research collaborations with Veterans Affairs and hope to deepen our partnership in the future,” said Michael F. Collins, M.D., medical school chancellor. “We are pleased to help ensure that state colleges and universities have the necessary training to help ease the transition for returning men and women who have so admirably served our country.”

Due to the struggle with trauma and related psychological distress caused by both deployment in a military zone and military combat engagements, soldiers and veterans can experience social and family disruption that can negatively impact their ability to succeed in school.  In addition to this trauma, they may also deal with other psychiatric and physical disabilities, loss of military camaraderie and isolation/social disconnection and be at risk of suicide.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault. In the past, PTSD has been known by many names, such as “shell shock” during the years of World War I and “combat fatigue” after World War II.

People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experiences that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; feel sadness, fear or anger; and may feel detached or estranged from other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of traumatic events, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.

Many people exposed to a traumatic event experience symptoms like those described above in the days following the event. For a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, however, symptoms last for more than a month and often persist for months and sometimes years. Many individuals develop symptoms within three months of the trauma, but symptoms may appear later. For people with PTSD, the symptoms cause significant distress or problems functioning. PTSD often occurs with other related conditions, such as depression, substance use, memory problems and other physical and mental health problems.

The legislation calls for clinical and non-clinical counselors to be educated and trained in the areas of military culture and its influences on a service member’s psychology; deployment cycle stressors; outreach strategies for administrative, non-clinical and clinical services; and the symptoms of depression, suicide, deployment-related insomnia, substance abuse and the overall issues related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Finally, the bill calls for training in the knowledge of available PTSD resources and methods of referral for active duty and veteran students.

“I believe that the transition from military to civilian life can be one of the biggest life challenges that our brave soldiers can face after their service to our nation. It should be the goal of all of us to make this difficult time a little easier for our heroes and their families, especially as they seek the professional skills they will need and deserve to enter the civilian workforce,” said Arciero.

The legislation has been assigned to the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs and will have a public hearing to receive testimony.