Commentary: Mental health care has come a long way
May 14, 2009
WASHIINGTON (Army News Service, May 14, 2009) -- Loss of life is particularly disheartening when those lost have dedicated their lives to helping others.
Such is the case with the victims in the Camp Victory shooting in Baghdad Monday. While we have only begun to understand the circumstances leading up to the tragedy, I do know that mental health professionals, both in combat zones and here stateside, have made a difference in the lives of thousands of Soldiers and family members.
I know this because I've benefited first-hand. I hope and pray that the families of those who were lost in this tragedy know that their sons and daughters, husbands and wives have given life back to thousands.
To keep things in perspective, there are several things that both the Department of Defense and the Veteran's Administration must continue to improve upon to address the short- and long-term effects of not only this war, but of wars fought by generations past. In fact, the initial response to an estimated 100,000 cases of Gulf War Syndrome in the 1990s was a clear example of how poorly previous veteran's health issues have been handled.
A 1997 Government Reform subcommittee on Human Resources concluded "that responsibility for Gulf War illnesses, especially the research agenda, must be placed in a more responsive agency, independent of the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs." Fortunately, both agencies have made strides in terms of recognition and the treatment of veterans with Gulf War Syndrome, but to have a legislative body loose complete confidence in our ability to take care of our own is unconscionable.
Today's conflict is unparalleled in its length and scope and has brought about incredible challenges in the treatment of our troops. We have not always been up to the task, but the sense of accountability, openness, and willingness to learn and grow is readily apparent to me.
It is of sad irony that the Warrior Transition Command, responsible for the transition of our wounded Soldiers, was activated the same day as these tragic shootings. I hope and pray that we can learn from and prevent any other tragedies such as this, while paying due respect to those who suffer from these losses.
At the same time, I also feel that in order to truly pay respect to those who gave their lives in the service of so many, that we recognize how far our institution has come in recognizing, treating, and affording opportunities to Soldiers who experience mental health concerns.
I want to emphasize that you can seek out help and treatment and still proudly serve your country. While this may not have been true only a few years ago, we've come a long way, and of course we have much more to do. So, to my fellow veterans who may suffer from mental health concerns, I say seek out treatment, reach out to the support network, and get the counseling and treatment you need.
To the families of those affected by the tragedy, I know it may not ease your pain, but I want to tell you that without those that you loved and lost, so many of us would never have gotten our lives back. For that and so much more, I thank you!
(Lt. Col. Andrew Morton serves as deputy chief of recruiting communications for the Office of the Chief of Army Reserve.)