WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon should immediately fund programs in Maryland and other states that help war-weary National Guard soldiers reintegrate back into civilian life, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski urged the Pentagon yesterday.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, the Maryland Democrat cited a Jan. 14 Sun article about the financial problems the Maryland National Guard has in meeting the needs of returning soldiers and their families, including more than 1,000 troops who will arrive home in Maryland from Iraq this spring.
Despite some state funding and dozens of volunteers, the Maryland Guard faces a $2.2 million shortfall in meeting its soldiers' needs, Mikulski said.
As many as 49 percent of returning National Guard soldiers report some psychological problems after they return, including sleeplessness, inappropriate anger, alcohol abuse and rocky relations with family and work associates, according to Pentagon data.
The stress of combat and long deployments "can wreak havoc" on soldiers and their families, Mikulski wrote to Gates. "Counseling, education and access to resources can greatly ease this transition period."
In response to the Pentagon's repeated refusal to pay for such programs, Congress has passed legislation requiring Defense Department support. But the authorization bill, awaiting President Bush's signature, does not provide funding for the programs.
That leaves the Guard dependent on donations and volunteers.
"This is unacceptable," Mikulski told Gates.
The programs in Maryland and elsewhere would help assess soldiers' health at 30-, 60- and 90-day intervals after they return. They provide immediate help ranging from family counseling to tax assistance, and teach soldiers and their families how to obtain long-term assistance in their communities.
For information on how to be involved in helping the returning National Guard soldiers and their families, contact Lt. Col. Michael Gafney at firstname.lastname@example.org.