Study shows pre-deployment screening yields benefits
January 18, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 18, 2010) -- An Army study released today found that Soldiers who received extra behavioral-health screening prior to deployment had significantly lower rates of combat stress than those who did not.
The study, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, was conducted by five Army doctors. They screened three 3rd Infantry Division Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) at Fort Stewart, Ga., prior to their 2007 deployment, and compared results with three BCTs who did not take part in the program.
The study, called the Pre-deployment Mental Health Screening/Care Coordination Program, was developed by Army physicians and psychologists who had been searching for a better way to track Soldiers with behavioral health issues, especially when headed overseas.
The 10,678 Soldiers who took part in the program received an extra 15 questions during their pre-deployment health screening pertaining specifically to behavioral health. Questions included "Are you currently taking any medications for a mental health condition'" and "Do you have any past or recent history of suicidal or homicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts'"
These more poignant questions concerning Soldiers' mental health enabled doctors to identify troops who were either not fit to deploy, or who could benefit from a doctor's supervision while deployed, explained Col. George Appenzeller, one of the authors of the study.
As a result, the Soldiers who were identified as having a prior behavioral health diagnosis could be followed up on overseas as opposed to medical personnel reacting after a negative event.
"This system shifted away from the traditional mental-health paradigm of attempting to predict future behavior or inability to cope," said Maj. Christopher Warner, the 3rd ID's staff psychiatrist. "Rather, the purpose of this process was to ensure that we were not deploying unsafe Soldiers based on present conditions, and ensuring that we were linking those who were deploying with the in-theater assets so that they could stay in the fight. The result is an effective process that enhances Soldier and unit safety."
Also, as part of the program, some 3rd ID doctors deployed with the troops that they screened, so that coordination and management of medical care between garrison and theater could be attained.
According to the study, in the first six months of deployment 307 Soldiers who received the additional screening were found to have psychiatric behavioral-health disorders as opposed to 1,365 Soldiers from the other brigades who did not receive the screening. Additionally, only 60 Soldiers who received the extra screening were put on restricted duty due to behavioral-health concerns, as opposed to 186 who did not have the screening.
"Soldiers who continued care with their primary care providers, just like back home, did better and successfully completed their deployments," Appenzeller said.
The Army's Office of the Surgeon General announced that this study shows a proactive stance on mental-health care can bring respite for Soldiers facing often multiple deployments.
"We're excited about what this study shows," said Maj. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army's deputy surgeon general. "It is the first direct evidence that a program is effective in preventing adverse behavioral-health outcomes."
Horoho said the Army would like to begin implementing a more stringent screening process for all Soldiers heading overseas.
"The process is to take the responsibility off the Soldier and not expect them to make the decision to ask for help all over again," Warner said.