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Program launches help for returning combatants, families

BETHESDA, Md. (AFPN) -- A team of experts in military medicine and health communication at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences here launched a new health education campaign Aug. 24 -- "Courage to Care."

In particular, Courage to Care is aimed at helping combatants reintegrate back into their families after surviving the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. In general, the campaign is geared toward the entire Defense Department community -- active-duty, National Guard and Reserve servicemembers and their families, as well as the health and community providers who serve them.

Courage to Care consists of ready-to-use fact sheets written for physician providers, as well as servicemembers, on topics about military life and health. The fact sheets are in the public domain, intended for distribution to provider networks and can be customized with a site's local contact information and resources.

The first of two fact sheets is titled "Reintegration Roadmap -- Shared Sense of Purpose," and is for the health- and social-service provider. Its companion sheet, "Becoming a Couple Again, Creating a Shared Sense of Purpose," is for military couples experiencing the transition.

The content derives from interviews conducted by the university's health professionals with affected servicemembers and families who have experienced combat stress and family separation. The fact sheets describe the reintegration challenges and offer a step-by-step process to help re-establish relationships as couples and as families.

Nancy Vineburgh, assistant professor of psychiatry, coined the campaign's name to convey the courage to care from military doctors, psychiatrists and counselors. It also conveys the courage to care that military families and communities must assume in caring for their own health.

Ms. Vineburgh, who has worked on national public education, health education and health promotion campaigns, said she designed the fact sheets to be concise, contemporary and attractive. That in turn should facilitate and sustain the health dialogue between provider and the servicemembers on the receiving end.

Army Col. Charles Serio, the university's brigade commander, sent a copy of the fact sheet to a relative who just returned from the battlefield, Ms. Vineburgh said.

"His wife said it was attractive enough to put on their refrigerator to remind them in the months ahead of the 'relationship makers and relationship breakers' outlined in the fact sheet," she said.

"People tend to read and hold on to information that is attractive," Ms. Vineburgh said. "These are issues that won't go away overnight. Our team wanted to address not just the issues, but the process of healing and recovery."

The university-based program is the brainchild of retired Col. (Dr.) Robert Ursano, professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and director of the university's Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress.

Dr. Ursano was prompted to establish the program after receiving an e-mail message from a young woman whose brother, a Soldier of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., was returning home for two weeks of rest and recuperation, said Col. (Dr.) Molly Hall, an associate professor of psychiatry.

The woman wanted to know how the family should prepare to welcome her brother home from the battlefields of Iraq. She also wanted to know what issues the family should understand before he arrived to diffuse any combat trauma he might have suffered.

"That e-mail wound its way to us," Dr. Hall said. "Out of that request came the first health fact sheet on coming home for servicemembers and their families on reunion."

The fact sheet on reintegration was posted on the center's Web site before Courage to Care became a university-wide campaign, Dr. Hall said.

Courage to Care speaks to the family's need and recognizes their energy, effort and caring, Dr. Ursano said.

"Whether it's taking care of a Soldier who's lost his legs or whether it's taking care of a child with chronic diabetes, we forget what it means and how much energy families (give) to those activities," he said. "It requires their courage to face it every day in order to manage those types of health problems.

"Courage to Care is an extension of our work in educating health providers and to enhance their communication with (servicemembers) and their families," Dr. Ursano said.

"There's a lot of health information out there, but it is often imbedded in comprehensive, health information Web sites,” Ms. Vineburgh said. “We wanted something simple and direct that could be used in provider offices as a take away for the military family or servicemember. The university provides access to some of the nation's leading military medicine experts and providers, and we wanted to bring that expertise to the DOD community."

Topics in future issues will include, "Workplace Re-entry of Guard and Reserve," "Deployment Impact on Children and Families," "Women's Health During Deployment," and "Talking About Injury With Spouse and Family."

Courage to Care fact sheets can be downloaded from the uniformed university's Web site at www.usuhs.mil/psy/courage.html. For more information, call (301) 295-2470.

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