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Video: Tackling Substance Abuse Among Vets

The Hotel del hosts a four-day conference offering advice on how to guide service members who are battling addictions and mental health issues.

Chris Bailey, a 15-year military veteran with hitches in both the Marines and the Army, for years felt he was a functioning alcoholic. 

That was until one addiction morphed into opiate use and beyond. Then he found himself on his back in an emergency room, clearly no longer functioning.

It's been a long road back.

“The miracle of it is it happened about a year ago today and I haven't used for about a year ago today,” said Bailey, 35. (hear his story in his own words in the media box.)

Addiction is a pervasive problem in society, but Bailey, along with retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey and others, wants the country to know that it's a particularly troubling issue for combat veterans.

Hundreds of clinicians and medical professionals gathered at Monday for the Freedom and Recovery conference, offering guidance on how to counsel service members with addictions or other mental problems.

McCaffrey, a four-star general who served as the nation's drug czar under President Bill Clinton, opened the event with a morning keynote address. 

He noted the strain facing this generation of military veterans, who often have served multiple tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is estimated, he said, that up to 20 percent of them are suffering from post-traumatic stress, which can lead to alcohol and drug abuse.

“We're not doing these veterans a favor,” he said. “We owe it to them.”

The conference continues through Thursday. Scheduled workshops deal with treatment for post-traumatic stress disorders, substance abuse, relapses, chronic pain and nutrition.

The event features two other keynote addresses, by Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Dakota Meyer and “Dancing With the Stars” winner J.R. Martinez, both wounded combat veterans.

Their speeches – Meyer's at 6 p.m Tuesday, Martinez's at 6 p.m. Wednesday – are open to the public, but tickets, which cost $50, are required. They can be obtained at the Crown Room at the hotel the evening of the events or at the Grande Hall conference registration table anytime beforehand.

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