Following any kind of traumatic experience, memories and symptoms can continually haunt a person, especially combat veterans and first responders.
The Post Deployment Seminar (PDS) is a three-day workshop being held this weekend in Columbia to support veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Peer support soldiers, mental health professionals as well as military chaplains are participating in the seminar.
LTC Steve Shugart is a chaplain with the South Carolina Army National Guard and a liaison with South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program (SCLEAP). He says the overall goal of the program is to facilitate healing and constructive coping, “We take soldiers who have been in combat, and are back, and we bring them in, and their families … and take them through a time of group processing as well as some individual counseling.”
Shugart says they basically “stole” an FBI program and began to use it with South Carolina police officers. “Because we had lost a Highway Patrol officer who was also a soldier, many of our reserve component soldiers are police officers, that’s how I became to know about it. And so I’m sitting there saying, ‘we could use this. This could be part of our model as well,’ ” he explains.
Shugart says because it’s been so successful in South Carolina other states are beginning to copy the program.
According to Shugart peer leadership is also a big part of the program: “One of the things that’s important to us is that we bring a soldier in and we hook that soldier up with somebody who’s been there.” Shugart says it’s important to have support for the returning veteran, not only for serving his/her country, but to help them return to a normal routine at home and at work.
Shugart expects about 40 participants, with various exposure to trauma.
Dr. Roger M. Solomon, psychologist with the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, will assist in the seminar. Dr. Solomon agrees with Shugart that support from other soldiers who have been deployed is important.
Solomon says, “We believe in unit cohesion. They took care of each other over there, they can take care of each other over here. And we have peers, we have soldiers who’ve been in combat who work with us, and they’ll get up and tell their story. Not only what they did, but the emotional impact afterwards.”
Dr. Solomon stresses, “I want to urge you to support the men and women who have served. They’ve been through hell for us and they’re coming back home, many of them hurting very much. Let’s do all we can for them.”
The seminars for the returning veterans are based on programs that have gone on in law enforcement for many years. As the programs were further developed they became part of South Carolina’s Law Enforcement Assistance Program with the Department of Public Safety.
Shugart says they’ve had much success with the program in South Carolina because, “This isn’t a touchy-feely kind of thing. These are real soldiers doing the real thing. And the peer part is what makes it unique.”