Returning Vets- Part 2

Houston has more veterans per capita than any other city in the nation. And more are expected to move here when they return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their needs range from medical care and mental health to job placement and tuition assistance.

The presence of the Texas Medical Center and the VA Hospital are significant assets for the region and for vets.

As Laurie Johnson reports in part two of a four-part series— Houston has everything to offer for returning veterans— once they actually decide to look for help.

Christopher Webb could be the poster boy of veterans.He's a young, attractive red-head with a slightly wry smile and quiet demeanor.He works in the Veterans Services Office at the University of Houston and ispresident of the UH Veterans Collegiate Society.

Even so, it took him a year and a half after getting back from Iraq to even thinkabout getting services from the VA.

"It was rough. You know I was trying to reconnect with my friends who I hadn't seen in eight years or had barely seen in eight years. Just trying to decompress seemed virtually impossible." [Reporter] "What do you mean by that: decompress?" "Decompress, you know try to get everything off your chest, trying to deal with everything that had happened. There were a few incidents that I didn't want to talk about and am just now working through."

Webb says the first thing he wanted when he got back was to enjoy his freedom.But that desire to be left alone is one of the things that can work against veterans.

"I think the early intervention that we are currently working on and have been working on for the last several years is going to make a difference."

Dr. Stacy Lanier is a staff psychologist at the Michael DeBakey Veterans AffairsMedical Center.She says Webb's story is not unique.But this need to retreat often results in serious emotional consequences, especially when it comes to family life.

"They need to be prepared for their spouse to possibly be emotionally shut down. Having been in a combat zone where feelings and emotion can be detrimental, you know they bring that home and have to really work at opening up. And sometimes what will happen is spouses will get angry that their service member spouse is not being open and loving and that shuts the veteran down even more."

Which is why the VA urges these men and women to come in immediately.It's a bit of Catch-22 -- trying to get vets to come in and talk about theirfeelings and experiences at the very time when all they want to do is forget.

Tomorrow, a look at the system when it doesn't work.

"It's tough. It's really tough because you really don't know what to expect because again this is a different type of war, these are very young men and women who are serving multiple terms and are encountering issues that we can't even imagine."

On Wednesday, the third part in our series "Returning Veterans: A Call to Action."

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.


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