NEWS | Dec. 18, 2008

Surinamese visit focuses on PTSD treatment

By Roger C. Anderson South Dakota National Guard

RAPID CITY, S.D. - Nearly two decades after the republic of Suriname's Interior War, government and military leaders of this South American country are pressed to understand and treat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Taking advantage of its state partnership with South Dakota, three top leaders began a fact-finding mission in the Rapid City area last week to learn what U.S. governmental agencies are doing to treat its veterans.

By meeting with local mental health physicians and support organizations, the group hopes to return with a better understanding to develop a template for the treatment of PTSD.

The delegation included Maj. Gustaff Samijadi, Suriname's military civil-affairs officer, Maj. Henk Amstelveen, nurse manager of social psychiatric services, and Herman Jintie, nursing director of the government mental-health hospital in Suriname's capital of Paramaribo.

"Care for our veterans of the Interior War is becoming a political issue for us," said Samijadi during his briefing at the South Dakota National Guard headquarters at Camp Rapid. "The Ministry of Defense is contracting with our mental health hospital to treat these soldiers."

Samijadi said that more than 500 military members who were involved with the prior conflict are still active members and are now 40 years and older. Some have resorted to drugs and alcohol while trying to handle their stress and must receive help before they can be put back to work.

Facing scarce resources to deal with the disorder, an implementation committee was developed to get the process for treatment started.

"We are in the process of training psycho-therapists and are using a treatment developed by the Dutch," said Samijadi. "Since their treatment is based on studies, books and policies from the U.S., one could say we are going directly to the source for answers."

Suriname's armed forces consist of the national army under the control of the Ministry of Defense and a smaller civil police force, which is under the authority of the Ministry of Justice and Police. The national armed forces comprise some 2,500 personnel, the majority of whom are deployed as light-infantry security forces.

According to the U.S. State Department Web site, Suriname's interior war (1986-1991) began when a Maroon insurgency, led by former soldier Ronnie Brunswijk, began attacking economic targets in the country's interior.

In response, the army ravaged villages and killed suspected Brunswijk supporters.

"PTSD exists everywhere there is extreme stress. It exists throughout our military and civilian population," said Jintie. "We were brothers, then, we started to fight. A lot has been done to each other."

The three-day forum included visits with trained counselors from the family services branch of the South Dakota National Guard, Pennington County Veterans Services Office, the Rapid City Vets Center and Behavior Management Systems.

The group met with doctors at VA Medical Centers in Hot Springs and Fort Meade and was briefed on the programs in place for treatment of substance abuse and PTSD. They also got a chance to talk with veterans enrolled in the stress treatment program.

"Our visit here will definitely have a positive affect on our PTSD treatment program," said Amstelveen prior to returning home.

He told a local reporter, "I want to start now. I can't wait for the implementation. I saw too much of how it can work."

Becoming actively involved in its State Partnership Program with Suriname in 2006, South Dakota conducted 10 significant exchanges in the past year. Those participating included key leaders throughout South Dakota and Suriname's government, education system, community, military, private business and tourism industry.