By LISA ORKIN EMMANUEL – Mar 24, 2009
MIAMI (AP) — Derek Graner can scan a crowd of veterans and pick out those needing help.
The former Army sergeant developed post traumatic stress disorder in Iraq and knows the signs — the withdrawal, the restlessness, the distrust.
“Sometimes there is a certain look in their eye,” he said. Graner is one of 100 former service members hired nationally by the Department of Veterans Affairs as outreach specialists to help get Iraq and Afghanistan veterans into programs aimed at easing their transition back to civilian life.
They frequent job fairs, welcome-home events and other places where troops back from the wars might congregate and look for those struggling to adjust. The goal is to persuade them to visit one of 230-plus vet centers nationwide, which are operated by the VA to offer free services from job hunting assistance to marriage and mental health counseling.
Experts applaud the effort to actively search for veterans who may need help, even if some advocates say the program should be much bigger. “Reaching out to these guys is really important because they will try and disappear. They try and handle it on their own. They try and run for cover. They don’t know … what the symptoms are and how it’s affecting them,” said Elizabeth Brett, an associate clinical professor of psychology at Yale University School of Medicine.
The VA says more than 340,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have either received services from vet centers or at least been contacted by outreach efforts, including people like Graner. More than 1.8 million U.S. troops have been deployed since 2001, the Department of Defense said.