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PBS's 'Coming Back with Wes Moore' returns

Wes Moore hosts PBS doc on veterans and

Wes Moore hosts PBS doc on veterans and their lives, entitled "Coming Back with Wes Moore" Credit: Courtesy of Stacy Pearsall

Memorial Day approaches and TV approaches the day in its own way, too. But one particularly worthy effort in fact began last week - "Coming Back with Wes Moore," a PBS three-parter that returns Tuesday night (WNET/13, 8).

There's much to admire about this film, but Moore's specific take on veterans returning from the battlefield and re-assimilating is as good as any place to start: His approach is both prescriptive and forward-looking. The stories of the men and women he tells here are really only just beginning, but they are stories, and their protagonists appear to be very much in charge of the outcome.

Last week's opener was "Coming Back," tonight is "Fitting In," and next week is "Moving Forward." If you are a veteran or know a veteran, these are well-worth a look.

I spoke with Moore last week about his series; an edited version of our chat follows.

And speaking of stories, he's a particularly interesting one - a Baltimore native, he became a Rhodes scholar, served as an Army Captain captain with the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division (in 2005-06), returned stateside to a business career, became a best-selling author, and...is now host of "Beyond Belief" with OWN.

What are some of the issues you are trying to highlight in "Coming Back?"

"That whether or not people have transition challenges or don't has nothing to do with your level of education or even the kind experience you may have had - you may have had multiple combat tours or none, you don't come back as the same person. I was fortunate - I had a supportive family that was anxious to welcome me home back and a job waiting for me, but even with that, I still had transition issues...

How did you choose the people you ultimately profiled?

"We looked for two main things - were they willing to be transparent? What we didn't want was for people to come back to us and say, you can look at this aspect of my life but not at that one. We wanted people who wanted to be honest about their transition, and who wanted to see the good with the bad..."

Depression - and obviously in a few instances you cite, even suicide - seems to be especially haunting and pervasive part of the re-entry process - why?

"A few things are going on, and understanding that when you come home, you want things to return to normal, to the way they were, but people have to understand that's not going to happen. You've changed. Everything about your situation has changed. It's not so simple to say that everything will return back to normal...Plus, there's a level of urgency about everything we do. For those who had been in combat situations, threw had actually even been a chemical component to their experience - a shot of dopamine - and when we get home we find other ways of dealing with that and in some ways, those aren't helpful or safe. This is where vets need to find new missions and things to focus on..

Obviously there's been a great deal in the news lately about the massive problems besetting the Veterans Administration and veterans - treatment delays and so on. How has the VA handled these massive problems?

"I think they've been doing the best they can, and they are amazingly overwhelmed. No one expected these wars to last thing long and no one expected the level of damage [to vets] that has happened with these wars...

What's next for you in terms of this kind of programming?

"The goal for me was not to do just a television show but to participate in a much deeper conversation to make sure that we're thinking about these things, and to realize that for veterans this is an all-encompassing effort that will go on five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years from now when many will just be turning forty-five."

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