USC looks at how Canadians help returning soldiers

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The USC School of Social Work is in the middle of a four-year effort to build up its research into “wounded warriors” — combat vets who come back from battle with injuries physical and mental. Back in January, the School of Social Work teamed up with the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles to host a Wounded Warriors conference. Attendees learned about a Canadian program that helps ease the way back from war.

The program has one of those military-type names: "Third Location Decompression." It puts returning soldiers in an un-military-type setting for a few days before they come home.

For Canada’s veterans of the war in Afghanistan, the setting was the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus. There, they stay in a lovely beach resort, but they also spend time in group sessions. The idea is to decompress a bit and work through emotional trouble from deployment in a war zone.

Lieutenant Colonel Stephane Grenier helped start the Canadian program 10 years ago. "Really, the goal was very simple," said Grenier during a panel discussion called "Healing The Mind." Grenier joined the Canadian Forces in 1983 and was deployed to Rwanda for 10 months in 1994. "It was to kill that isolation because isolation kills. It almost killed me. It almost kills other soldiers."

Here’s something else about the Canadian military’s Third Location Decompression program: it’s for all soldiers — not just the ones that were in combat. Lieutenant Colonel Grenier lost two soldiers to combat in Afghanistan, but he attended more than 50 funerals, or “ramp ceremonies,” while he was there.

"That may not be considered combat itself," Grenier says, "but ask yourself, what happens to the clerk who never steps outside Kandahar Airfield perhaps, but whose job is to write those letters, write the inventory of equipment being shipped back to mom and dad?"

That clerk, surrounded by death but an eyewitness to none of it, could return home and struggle with depression or anger. But, says Grenier, that same clerk won’t have a clear reason to seek help. Third Location Decompression tries to head off that problem.

To Anthony Hassan, who directs USC’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families, the Canadians are onto something and the U.S. should pay attention.

"The Canadians are so close to us. They’re carrying a lot of the burden in Afghanistan. They’ve had a lot of losses," said Hassan after Grenier's presentation, "It’s just nice to open up our minds to the possibility that they have some great work that they can share with this community."

Hassan and a team of USC researchers have gone to Cyprus to study the Canadian Third Location Decompression program. They aim to take what they’ve learned and turn it into a pilot project to help American soldiers heading home after duty.

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