FORT BENNING, Ga. (June 20, 2012) -- Soldiers returning home from more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq will find a multitude of resilience programs and initiatives at Fort Benning to deal with any lingering psychological effects, said officials at Martin Army Community Hospital's Department of Behavioral Health.

At the Army's highest leadership levels, there's now an expectation that troops should seek help for feelings of isolation, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, said Dr. (Maj.) Kevin Buford, a psychiatrist and the department chief. A support network stretches across the installation to spot warning signs, provide treatment and manage PTSD symptoms after diagnosis.

June is PTSD Awareness Month. Post leaders are using it as an opportunity to highlight education and the importance of screening measures to mitigate any problems.

"Commands are starting to realize that we have joint ownership and responsibility to the service members," Buford said. "Once we have that visibility and we're all on the same page, it breaks down any other barriers that were there before to optimize the care of the Soldier. … It's just being professionally responsible to take care of yourself. There's no shame in that. The message we want to get across is it's OK for anybody in the Army to seek help."

Despite the projected decrease in combat operations in the next couple of years, the Army is boosting behavioral health support and services, he said. At Fort Benning, that includes more therapists collaborating with individual brigades, embedded social workers at troop medical clinics and the establishment of an embedded behavioral health clinic dedicated to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team on Kelley Hill.

PTSD diagnosis begins with aggressive screening, said Maj. Michael Cyra, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at the hospital's mental health services department. A key method here is the RESPECT-Mil program, which stands for Re-Engineering Systems of Primary Care Treatment in the military. Available at troop medical clinics postwide, it allows Soldiers to be screened and treated, if necessary, in a primary care setting.

"The education and supportive pieces come first," Cyra said. "Our goal is to really make a connection with them, so they can get over whatever resistance they have coming to us in the first place. We want to help teach them basically to get over that feeling that they're broken. We normalize it and let them know this is pretty much a predictable response to what they've been through.

"Our problem is, we only know what they're willing to tell us. So we screen, screen, screen. They get screened at least four times over the course of a deployment. … Soldiers should use behavioral health and get the help they need. View it as responsible maintenance for your mind."

From there, treatment pieces can be introduced, Buford said. MACH therapists and counselors at agencies such as the Army Substance Abuse Program and Family Advocacy Program employ multiple strategies to combat PTSD. He said they range from a practice called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which seeks to balance thought processes and involves a narration or retelling of the traumatic event.

Cyra said medication often is used simultaneously. A broad class of antidepressants can relieve some PTSD symptoms, even though they do not treat its underlying cause, he said.

MACH features a walk-in clinic for anyone dealing with a mental-health issue, officials said, and the Army hospital frequently coordinates with off-post providers. Earlier this year, it launched the Intensive Outpatient Program, or IOP, a two-week session designed specifically for Soldiers who are experiencing behavioral or emotional difficulties but do not require the level of psychiatric care delivered by inpatient or partial hospitalization programs.

Scientists are examining whether women in uniform have different risk factors than men, or respond differently to their environment in ways that impact PTSD development, according to a blog published June 7 by Dr. Kate McGraw, a clinical psychologist for the Defense Centers of Excellence in Arlington, Va.

For example, one study of risk factors showed that Afghanistan and Iraq female veterans older than 30 are at increased risk for PTSD compared to younger female veterans. In addition, both male and female veterans with PTSD shared some common traits: they're generally unmarried, enlisted in the Army, served on active duty rather than in the Reserve component, and deployed multiple times compared to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans without the disorder.

Citing Veterans Affairs statistics, Buford said the recovery rate is 80 percent for patients who engage in treatment.

"Soldiers can run into career-ending and Family-ending events without treatment," Cyra said. "Obviously, we want to head that off and prevent it. We're trying to tell them, 'The hard part is over. Now is your time to recover, and we can help you do it.'"

Visit www.ptsd.va.gov.

Page last updated Wed June 20th, 2012 at 13:29