With active wars in two separate countries, an increasing number of American service men and women are returning from combat zones and re-adjusting to everyday life — a process that can involve depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

To help veterans re-integrate into civilian life, the University’s Depression Center and its Department of Psychiatry received a $350,000 grant from the Chicago-based McCormick Foundation.

The gift is a part of the McCormick Foundation’s Welcome Back Veterans program, which aims to increase awareness of issues veterans face and augment funding for programs to support them. Welcome Back Veterans provides health care to veterans and their families and assists veterans in obtaining jobs and establishing careers.

Jane Spinner, the project director for the Welcome Back Veterans program through the Depression Center, said the program will provide job-skills training to veterans so they can get better jobs after finishing their military service.

Besides providing jobs and health care, the center will set up parenting workshops to help soldiers adjust to family life.

“When someone is gone for a prolonged absence, they come home and all kinds of dynamics have changed,” Spinner said.

The workshops will teach families about different stages of parenting from infant to teenage years.

As part of the Welcome Back Veterans program, the Depression Center is also creating a Buddy-to-Buddy program for training veterans to help other veterans, especially in overcoming the stigma attached to receiving mental health services.

“The military is really paying attention to mental heath issues and decreasing the stigma around them,” Spinner said.

She said that starting this month, 900 recently returned Michigan National Guard troops will be paired with other veterans in the program.

LSA junior Derek Blumke, president of Student Veterans of America, helped develop the Buddy-to-Buddy program. When he finished his service in the U.S. Air Force in 2005, Blumke enrolled at the University, a transition he said was difficult.

“I was feeling like a waste of life,” Blumke said. “I was sitting in class listening to professors talking about subjects I could not care about while thinking I should be back in Afghanistan with my friends.”

Blumke experienced depression his first two months at the University and realized there were other veterans like him who needed help.

He formed Student Veterans of America in the spring of 2007 to provide support for returning veterans who enrolled in colleges and universities following military service.

Over the past eight months, he has worked with the Depression Center to develop Buddy-to-Buddy which he hopes will help to alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder.

Blumke said he began working with the Depression Center because he wanted to be sure resources would be available for him and his friends as they transition from active duty.

“You go from doing the most important thing you’re ever going to do in your life to living in your parents’ basement or sitting in a classroom where the students’ most important conversation discussed is what party they are going to tonight,” he said.

Blumke said veterans don’t always like to seek assistance because their military training has taught them to be independent and strong enough to overcome anything.

The Depression Center’s programs will begin this month. In the coming weeks, Blumke and other student veteran groups will be advocating for reforms to make college campuses more accommodating for veterans.

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