Event Focuses On Mental Illness Among Veterans

Between 10 And 20 Percent Of Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans Have A Mental Illness

A conference focusing on mental illness among military veterans began Monday in Coronado.

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Mental health advocates and addiction specialists will be in town this week for the 35th annual Foundations & Recovery Conference, which is being held in the San Diego area for the first time.

"Because of the large numbers of active and retired military, we felt this conference was an absolute must here," said Dan Carpenter of CRC Health Group, one of the event's title sponsors.

Between 10 and 20 percent of the 2 million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have some form of mental illness. According to Carpenter, the drawdown of troops from the war zone may cause that number to increase.

"The deployment tempo is slowing down so they are home longer, and those symptoms are having an opportunity to come to the surface," he said.

The opening session's keynote speaker was retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffery, who spoke about the problems facing veterans upon their return home.

"There are some 30,000 suicides in the U.S. every year, and 20 percent of them are veterans. Plus alcohol abuse is a growing problem among returning veterans," McCaffery said.

Aside from workshops and other forums on how to address the problem, providers also heard from Chris Bailey, a former Army Ranger sniper.

"While I was deployed, I took all the feelings and emotions I had especially after seeing friends get killed and stuff them way down deep," Bailey said. "I had to in order to keep going, but it all erupted when I got home."

Bailey called himself a functioning alcoholic who later switched to opiates when alcohol wasn't enough. Now sober for a year, Bailey said for every veteran saved, it is repaid tenfold.

"When you save that person, they will do whatever it takes to give back and save others," he said.

The conference is being held at the Hotel del Coronado until April 26. For more information, click here.

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