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SAMHSA News - July/August 2008, Volume 16, Number 4

National Guard Focuses on Mental Health, Substance Abuse

By Rebecca A. Clay

Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Boatman is haunted by the suicide of a National Guardsman suffering from depression. He’s also convinced that a new program could have saved the young man’s life.

“If he had been getting mental health services locally, maybe there could have been more frequent visits and better followup,” said LTC Boatman, Chief of Substance Abuse Prevention for the National Guard Bureau in Crystal City, VA.

Connecting National Guard (Guard) members to mental health and substance abuse services in their own communities is the purpose of the Guard’s new Prevention, Treatment, and Outreach program.

Launched in 2007 at the direction of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, the program aims to keep Guard members from falling through the cracks. According to LTC Boatman, the program draws heavily on SAMHSA’s resources and help.

The National Guard’s status as “citizen soldiers” means their health care benefits differ from those of other soldiers on active duty often right by their side.

For those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, the military’s TRICARE benefits end soon after they return from active duty. These vets also have limited U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits for a few years.

According to LTC Boatman, these benefits often aren’t enough. For one thing, he says, VA facilities are “simply overwhelmed.” For another, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drinking or substance abuse disorders, and other problems often surface long after benefits have run out. There’s also the problem of Guard members who haven’t been deployed, but who nonetheless need mental health or substance abuse services.

“This is a readiness issue,” said LTC Boatman, noting that Guard members with untreated problems will not be prepared to respond to tornadoes and other crises at home, let alone deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. “We need to do all we can to provide them with quality services,” he said.

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With SAMHSA’s Help

To ensure access to care for citizen soldiers, the National Guard created the Prevention, Treatment, and Outreach program. The program currently operates in 35 states. LTC Boatman hopes he’ll eventually have the funding to expand the program to all states and territories.

“SAMHSA played a major role in assisting the Guard in creating this program,” he explained. To develop its strategy, the National Guard met with SAMHSA Administrator Terry Cline, Ph.D.; Center for Substance Abuse Treatment Director H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H.; and Senior Advisor on Substance Abuse Beverly Watts Davis.

“What we’re doing is really helping them piece together a web of community services,” explained Ms. Davis.

At the heart of the Prevention, Treatment, and Outreach initiative is a six-module training program called Team Readiness, developed by Joel Bennett, Ph.D. The program draws on the SAMHSA model program, Team Awareness. The Guard worked with SAMHSA and the program’s developer to adapt this workplace training program to meet specific needs. “We needed to make it more Guard-friendly,” said LTC Boatman, citing as an example the need to incorporate military terminology.

Team Readiness assists in the reintegration process for returning National Guard members and their dependents. The peer-to-peer assistance features referrals to local resources that can help screen for and treat PTSD, substance abuse, and other problems. “Guardsmen and women will confide in another enlisted person more than they will an officer,” says LTC Boatman. “There’s no stigma attached when you’re talking to a peer.”

The Team Readiness program isn’t the only component of the Prevention, Treatment, and Outreach initiative. The initiative also provides drug and alcohol classes that help participants understand how substance abuse jeopardizes their health, their families, and their mission.

The National Guard doesn’t provide mental health and substance abuse treatment; however, it does help connect members to services. “We rely on SAMHSA’s treatment locator,” said LTC Boatman. “SAMHSA also has a hotline number we give out.”

The initiative also reaches out to families and offers referrals to relatives concerned about a Guard member’s health. There’s even a camp for children to help them cope with the feelings and stress of having their parents deployed.

“There’s no way we would have been able to develop the program without SAMHSA’s help,” said LTC Boatman.


Resources for Returning Veterans and Their Families


This SAMHSA Web page includes:

  • How to find treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues
  • Publications about coping with trauma
  • Webcasts and conferences on recovery
  • Statistical reports and more.

SAMHSA’s Office of Applied Studies offers several statistical reports dedicated to veterans. They include Serious Psychological Distress and Substance Use Disorder among Veterans. For the full report, visit

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

VA’s National Center for PTSD offers fact sheets, tips, and guides on coping with war trauma or a loved one’s return from deployment at

For information on suicide warning signs and links for specialized topics, visit

For more resources and the SAMHSA News January/February 2008 article on returning veterans, visit SAMHSA News online at


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