By Amaani Lyle, American Forces Press ServiceNovember 20, 2013
WASHINGTON (Nov. 20, 2013) -- Army Secretary John M. McHugh acknowledged the depth and breadth of wounded warrior issues during a panel discussion at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif., Nov. 16.
Pentagon officials and stakeholders discussed the road ahead for military issues at the forum.
"We're recognizing the kinds of psychological injuries that were never recognized previously," McHugh said. "We're struggling with the great numbers of folks affected, the range of afflictions, and frankly, a lot of good intentions and not yet enough hard information on how to effect the most positive treatment."
The secretary described results and the ongoing need for progress following more than 12 years of war.
"It's really the dimension of making sure all these terrific warriors and their families are cared for in the most effective manner possible," he said.
From the Defense Department's perspective, McHugh said, challenges persist in balancing expedient warrior care with meeting their unique physical and psychological needs.
Suicide has been a problem in the ranks, and McHugh reported the Army's commitment of significant time and resources at command levels to stanch the stigma of reaching out for help and to offer stress relief and resilience-building programs for people at risk.
"This is something that rips at all our hearts -- I sign condolence letters to every survivor, regardless of how that Soldier dies," McHugh said. But about half of those condolence letters, he added, are the result of suicide.
"To have a young Soldier come back, get through a deployment in Afghanistan with people out there really trying to kill them, and then lose their life like that is just heart-wrenching," the Army secretary said.
McHugh also explained that DOD officials have worked with the Veterans Affairs Department to help in reducing the backlog of wounded warrior claims, adding that VA may be caught up by August.
McHugh also praised the willingness of people to step in help veterans.
"The people of this country today want to do more things in more ways to care for the wounded warriors who have left the military service than any other time in our nation's history," he said, citing examples that included a fellow panelist, actor and activist Gary Sinise, and similarly notable advocates.