WASHINGTON - As part of November's Defense Department focus on warrior care, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and key members of his medical team met this week with independent experts in psychology, mental health and resiliency training.
The experts included former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, former President of the American Psychological Association Dr. Marty Seligman, U.S. Military Academy professor Dr. Michael Matthews, and Dr. Larry Dewey, chief of psychiatry at the Boise, Idaho, Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Casey told the panel that he invited them to Washington to discuss innovative approaches in support of resilience and comprehensive fitness training for an Army stretched and stressed by the increasing demands of an era of persistent conflict.
Carmona echoed Casey's sense of urgency about health care system sustainability, noting that "it is an unprecedented time, ... and we need to transform."
"If we don't," he said, "the [percentage of our gross national product spent on health care] is going to be as high as 20 percent."
After sharing some of their research findings, the experts engaged the Army team on ways they could work together to complement current approaches to caring for Soldiers and their families. Among the ideas discussed was the role of character development in enhancing Soldiers' resiliency in the face of adversity.
"We can train our Soldiers to be resilient from adversity," said Seligman, who is recognized as a world leader in positive psychology.
The panel also talked about ways to help returning warriors see that they can thrive in civilian life, and they discussed the important role that local communities and individual Americans play in the lives of Soldiers and their families.
"I very much appreciated the conversation, and I hope we can continue the dialogue," Casey said, adding that continued engagement with outside experts will broaden the Army's perspective and enable it to build a better warrior health care program that might eventually serve as a model for other institutions.
(D. Myles Cullen works in the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army.)