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CONFERENCE REPORT: Consistency pays in effort to heal returning vets

April 3, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Oregon-based interventionist Ben Randolph asked a group of attendees at this week’s Freedom & Recovery conference to utter the first word that came to mind when hearing the term “veteran.” The first two replies spoke volumes about the complexities involved in assisting retuning military: “Hero” was followed closely by “broken.”

Randolph followed up by relating the description that many of the veterans with whom he has worked tend to use to portray themselves as sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): “monster.”

In a workshop session on the opening day of the April 3-6 Foundations Recovery Network conference in San Diego, Randolph urged attendees to avoid treating veterans like just another number (a scenario they can be all too familiar with), and not to try to be all things to all people, even if it means referring out certain cases.

Foundations’ 37th national conference is focusing on integrated behavioral health services for service members and first responders, although broader views on trauma and timely public policy topics also are prominent on this year’s meeting agenda. Randolph, whose appearance at the conference was supported by addiction treatment programs Desert Palms Recovery in California and Awakenings by the Sea in Oregon, delivered a talk on improving outcomes in the treatment of veterans and active-duty personnel.

Randolph, whose clinical experience includes serving as chemical dependency director at an Oregon psychiatric hospital, urged some consistency in the clinical approaches taken by programs. “I see some people switching out of a curriculum every few weeks,” he said. On the flip side, “There are also those who have been doing it one way since 1962 and don’t want to change,” he said.

A Navy veteran from the Gulf War period, Randolph is trained in cognitive processing therapy (CPT), a modality addressed in multiple presentations on the first day of the conference. He said that clinical programs working with veterans need to take a broad approach that pays sufficient attention to building life skills as a relapse prevention tool. “They are so used to military life that they need to readjust,” he said.

Randolph concluded his remarks with a sort of plea for ethical behavior by treatment programs. He said they should always say what they mean and mean what they say; he urged them to achieve results the first time; and he strongly criticized the practices of accepting kickbacks for referrals or paying an interventionist when the family of an addict is already paying for an intervention.

Opening keynote

The opening day of the conference also featured a moving opening keynote presentation by Capt. Scott O’Grady, whose story of survival after an anti-aircraft missile slammed into his F-16 over Bosnia made international headlines in the 1990s.

Amazingly, O’Grady said that his ordeal in enemy territory had not constituted his biggest challenge in life, saying that there have been numerous other instances of personal loss for which he was less prepared than he was in his military experiences.

O’Grady said an obstacle that treatment programs face involves winning the trust of members of the military. While his unusually public circumstances gave him no choice but to talk about what he had gone through, he said of many soldiers with whom he is familiar, “They don’t want to talk about it unless they see you as somebody who’s credible.”

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