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Coming Home: Supporting Military Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families

J. Michael Haynie

08 Coming Home Supporting Our Military and Their Families That Love Them

Ask the Expert:  J. Michael Haynie, Ph.D., is the executive director of Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families and is the Barnes Professor of Entrepreneurship at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management.

1. Question: I am a recovered alcoholic and I’m getting a bachelor's degree in applied behavioral sciences. My brother retired from the navy. I would like to be an alcohol substance abuse counselor and help service members in the recovery process. Are there any programs available to help me share my experience in helping military service members recover? I’d like to become a military addiction counselor. Through the grace of GOD I would like to help and believe I can make a difference in military family’s lives.

Answer: Many if not most veterans services agencies employ veterans with direct experiences in either recovery from mental health and/or substance abuse issues or who may have been homeless. Your experience and educational credentials could make you an attractive candidate to be hired by these agencies. We suggest you begin by identifying those veterans services agencies located where you live and arrange an appointment to meet with their hiring director or program supervisor. You could locate these programs by scanning their websites as a starting point:

Another place to start might be by asking the director of your local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, American Legion chapter or with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  In addition, you should inquire at local mental health service providers, homeless shelters, or faith and community based service organizations to learn who they work with to provide substance abuse counseling and arrange informational interviews.

2. Question: How important is a veteran's mentoring program for a veteran's drug court docket?

Answer: Veteran and peer mentoring are often useful services for veterans who have had substance or alcohol abuse experiences, and may assist in diversion or prevention of recurring abuse issues, enabling veterans to successfully complete rehabilitation or diversion programs and remain outside of the criminal justice system. Peer mentoring may also assist in recovery, or in living skills necessary to remain in diversion programs and avoid recidivism, and may enable or enhance job searches, obtaining or maintaining a permanent residence, or addressing other support needs.

3. Question: Why do so many alcoholic and drug addicts relapse after leaving treatment?

Answer: Just providing treatment services is often not enough to prevent relapse. We know from research and experience that a person in recovery needs economic stability through having a good job, a supportive network of friends, family and counseling staff to provide support in times of crisis, a home in a safe and affordable neighborhood and also a personal commitment to sustainable change. Good and effective counselors and case managers understand that avoiding relapse for the long term means not just encouraging people in recovery to attend individual and group alcohol/substance abuse counseling sessions but helping those in recovery to put together a net and network of services and supports to address all other aspects of living that contributes to recovery.

4. Question: I don't know if this question be answered but I'll ask anyway. I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) venturing into private practice with a focus on chronic pain and co-occurring disorders, with an emphasis on chronic pain and substance abuse. Having done some research and seeing information on television, I have seen a growing need for mental health support for men and women with chronic pain conditions, post military duty. I have heard it can take some military personnel up to three months to get treatment. How likely would I be to receive referrals and treat military personnel as a private practice LMHC versus practicing through Veterans Affairs? Also, how likely would it be that I get referrals in a more timely fashion? Does the VA refer to private practices?

Answer: The VA, like most government agencies, uses standard contracting procedures for procurement of products and services. A reasonable place to start to find out if the VA contracts for services like you propose would be to contact your local Veterans Health Administration Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs). The link to the VISN network is:

5. Question: I know that there are resources available for service men and women who need help with mental health problems. The hard part is getting someone to admit they need it. When they isolate themselves or drink to mask their pain and be social, how can we reach them? If someone isn’t open to hearing my concerns or admit to their suffering, how can I help him/her?

Answer: You are right-there is an often ‘toxic cycle’ of denial, hopelessness and lack of foreseeable remedies for people with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disabilities. A resource we find to be particularly helpful is Changing for Good by James O. Prochaska, John C. Norcross, John C. Norcross (Joint Author), Carlo C. Diclemente. It describes the process of change and stages of change that often occur in recovery and offers those who wish to help some tools they can use to understand and address issues. Many areas of the country have adopted ‘integrated treatment programs’ that unlike in years past treat both disabilities as primary. Here’s a link to the National Alliance for Mental Illnesses’ website containing information on that topic:

6. Question: Please be honest. If my husband got substance abuse treatment services while in the service, how much would it affect his career? Would everyone he works with know about it? What are the potential negative effects of trying to get treatment?

Answer: A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences ( indicates that the services need to engage in more work to reduce stigma and expand substance abuse counseling, including recommendations for confidential counseling. Whether or not substance abuse counseling will be detrimental to his career would depend on the status of his substance abuse, and weighing the options between his career and what impact substance abuse will have versus counseling and what impact that will have. Commanders are involved in substance abuse counseling planning (

Whether and how commanders share this information may vary from commander to commander in practice. There is a pilot program in the Army, and a proposed service-wide confidential alcohol treatment program, but until those are implemented, substance abuse counseling is not confidential. Potential negatives include awareness by commanders and potentially by colleagues, supervisors, and subordinates, and the impact that may have on promotion or assignments. However, it may be that seeking treatment will be seen as a positive in comparison to their current assessment of his performance and status if substance abuse is impairing his work or his interactions with others.

If he is already post-service and working in a civilian career, I can assume that he already passed a drug test if that was a condition of hiring. Most human resource departments have an employee assistance program that must provide substance abuse services in confidence. That being said - relapses or job performance that can be traced to substance abuse can still present a problem for the vet in recovery and an employer can be within their rights when firing a worker who is actively using while on the job or whose job performance can be traceable to substance abuse. They can also conduct random drug checks. There are three things I’d recommend: First, the downside risks of not getting treatment and potentially losing a job outweigh in my opinion the downside risks that co-workers know that a vet had an issue in the past or remains in treatment but is otherwise an excellent employee. So step one is to keep faithful to the treatment regimen and stay sober/drug-free. The next suggestion is to understand the policies of your employer as they regard supporting and counseling a worker getting drug treatment. By understanding how they handle information and the services they provide in-house or use to refer employees, you know where you stand on the disclosure issue and what their triggers might be for dismissing workers for cause. Get a copy of their employee handbook if they have one. And third is to build a strong peer support cadre on the job. These are co-workers or supervisors that know you as a good worker and close colleague. One or two may even be a person you confide in who could provide support and advice when you need it to remain in recovery.  But be careful here and use good judgment that you don’t start the company rumor mill when you did not need to.


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