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Soldier support program starts in a new direction

UNC is reorganizing its Citizen Soldier Support Program under a new director after the program came under criticism for misusing millions of dollars of federal money.

The program, created to help North Carolina’s National Guard and Reserve members return to civilian life after deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, came under scrutiny last year after UNC-system President Erskine Bowles was notified about concerns regarding the program’s misallocation of funds.

The program will now focus primarily on the behavioral health needs of returning combat veterans and their families.

Bob Goodale, who has directed the program’s behavioral health initiative since 2007, took over the program Monday.

The same internal audit that found that millions of dollars in federal funding was being spent mostly on salaries, travel costs and consultants rather than the programs to help soldiers, also recommended that Goodale direct the program.

Goodale said he plans to refocus the program’s efforts on military-specific training and education for health providers.

“He’s been prominent in the program for some time and had done really well with the behavioral health part of the program,” said Neil Caudle, associate vice chancellor for research, who works in the office that oversees the Odum Institute for Research in Social Science, where the program is based.

“Because of his experience and proven abilities, we think he’s well equipped to keep the program focused on its priorities and keep it successful,” Caudle said.

Goodale said he plans to orient the program more toward providing behavioral health aid for soldiers and less on building community partnerships.

The program currently sponsors education for behavioral health and other care providers on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

“We need to address psychological issues facing returning service members and their families … getting behavioral health providers to understand military culture, to understand what life is like for servicemen,” Goodale said.

He added that while military service tends to change people, not every returning veteran needs help. This purpose of this program is to help those who do.

“We owe it to them, the people who serve and protect us, to give them the support they need to return to a normal life,” Goodale said.

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