Montana colonel shares Guard’s PTSD outreach in front of Tester’s committee

Montana National Guard’s Brad Livingston testifies during VA Committee hearing

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – One of Montana's top military leaders today spoke in front of Senator Jon Tester and other members of the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and shared the success of the Montana National Guard's new PTSD outreach initiative.

Tester invited Col. Bradley Livingston to testify during a hearing about the VA's role in meeting the needs of National Guardsmen and Reservists returning from war.  Livingston is Chief of the Joint Staff for the Montana National Guard.

Tester explained that Guardsmen and Reservists, especially those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, have unique needs.  Unlike their active-duty counterparts, Guard and Reserve veterans must transition from their civilian lives and jobs, to active-duty military life, then back again—sometimes multiple times.

"Members of the guard and Reserve still face some pretty unique challenges when it comes to demobilization," Tester said during the hearing, adding that soldiers often have only one week "to try and put aside patrols and convoys for parenthood and carpools."

"When the resumption of civilian life happens in a small town, hundreds of miles away from their peers, that can make the mission every bit as tough as the missions they have executed in Iraq or Afghanistan," Tester said.  He noted that the "signature injuries" coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan are mental health injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Col. Livingston spoke specifically about the success of the Montana National Guard's new Post-Deployment Health Reassessment Program.  The Guard launched the program last summer following the suicide of Specialist Chris Dana, who suffered from severe PTSD.

"In Montana we felt that it wasn't just the (Department of Defense's) responsibility, or the VA's responsibility, it was the Montana National Guard's responsibility to take care of our soldiers, our airmen, their families," Livingston said.

After consulting with Guardsmen, veterans' organizations and community leaders, Montana's Post-Deployment Health Reassessment Program adopted 16 changes.  Three changes have attracted national attention:

  • The program requires all demobilizing Guardsmen to fill out the 1010 EZ form to establish eligibility for VA benefits, even if they may not seek benefits for years to come.
  • It extends face-to-face mental health assessments for two years following a deployment.  (Previously exams were conducted 30, 60 and 90 days after demobilization.)
  • And it allows Guardsmen to return to drill immediately upon demobilization. (Many Guardsmen prefer to be reunited with their "battle buddies" shortly after they return.)

"I hope we can get an agreement from the VA and the Department of Defense that some of these ideas can be standardized in the Reserve and across state guard units," Tester said.

Col. Livingston's written testimony to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee is available online HERE.