By Mr. Paul Boyce (FORSCOM)July 21, 2008
The U.S. Army is reminding Soldiers and their Families of the many available mental health and well-being programs to assist them with stress during the traditionally busy Summer months, when Soldiers and their Families often move from one duty assignment to the next in addition to many wartime stresses.
"Army leaders are fully aware that repeated deployments have led to increased distress and anxiety for both Soldiers and their Families," said Secretary of the Army Pete Geren. "This stress on the force is validated by recent studies of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans reporting symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder or major depression. The Army is committed to ensuring that all Soldiers and their Families receive the behavioral health care they need."
Services that are available for Soldiers and Families include combat and operational stress control for deployed units, behavioral health care programs in garrison, and suicide prevention programs. Chaplains, Military One Source, and Army Community Service offer additional support.
All Soldiers redeploying from the theater of operations are required to complete the Post Deployment Health Assessment (DD Form 2796) before leaving theater. This process screens for PTSD, major depression, concerns about Family issues, and concerns about drug and alcohol abuse. A physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner reviews the form, interviews the Soldier if needed, and can refer the Soldier to a behavioral-health care provider either on-site or at a military treatment facility. About 5 to 6 percent of Soldiers are referred for behavioral health care.
Soldiers complete the Post-Deployment Health Reassessment (PDHRA) screening program three to four months after returning from deployment. Soldiers who report problems can be offered care through military medical treatment facilities, Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers or VET centers, or by private health-care providers through TRICARE. About 12 percent of Soldiers are referred for behavioral health care after this screening.
Although the challenge is great, these efforts are meeting with success. The Army's Battlemind training helps Soldiers and Families anticipate the challenges they may face before, during and after deployments. Battlemind has proved to reduce the number of Soldiers with symptoms of behavioral health problems. This has been so successful the program is being expanded to be standard for all Soldiers. Units can use videos and printed materials available at www.battlemind.org.
As part of the effort to remove any stigma that is attached to behavioral health care, Soldiers now do not have to report counseling undertaken to deal with stress from combat or related to marital, Family or grief issues when they apply for a security clearance unless the treatment was court-ordered or was the result of violence.
All Soldiers, both active and reserve, participated in training on mild traumatic brain injury and PTSD last year. This chain teaching program provided leaders and Soldiers information and resources on concussions and post combat and operational stress. Over 900,000 Soldiers received the training.
The 2007 Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT) evaluated behavioral health support in theater last year. That MHAT concluded that programs such as Battlemind and chain teaching programs are helping, and there is a slow but steady decrease in perception of a stigma attached to behavioral health treatment.
Since last fall, the Army has added more than 190 contract behavioral-health providers to work on its installations. Additional help will come from Public Health Service providers detailed to work at military installations. There are an additional 93 social workers now employed by the Warrior transition Units. Across the Army, we have over 2000 providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric technicians, drug and alcohol counselors and marriage and family therapists.
From the beginning of the Iraq War, the Army anticipated the value of a robust combat and operational stress control presence on the ground, and deployed more than 200 behavioral health providers in Iraq and 30 in Afghanistan. All deploying behavioral health providers complete the Combat and Operational Stress Control Course, which has been revised to include lessons from the war on terrorism.
The Department of Defense this year established the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, led by Army Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton. This organization will pool expertise for treatment, education and research on these issues.
The Army has made a concerted effort to improve suicide prevention programs. Army personnel officials, morale and welfare leaders, and chaplains are coordinating education and training efforts for Soldiers and Families. The Army Suicide Event Report system provides surveillance and analysis. Analyses of suicides have resulted in new educational products, which are currently being distributed, both in theater and in the continental United States. These include "tip cards" such as the ACE (Ask, Care, Escort) card, and updated videos. However, we recognize more needs to be done, and are committed to doing everything it possibly can to decrease suicides.
Health care providers face their own stress as they care for injured Soldiers day after day, and so they now receive Provider Resiliency Training. All health care providers will be screened, and based on those results care teams may be installed at each military treatment facility, specifically to focus on the needs of the health-care providers.
A wealth of information is available at www.behavioralhealth.army.mil on the World Wide Web. Soldiers or Family members also can call toll-free to Military One Source (1-800-342-9647) for help, including referral for behavioral health counseling.
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