By Mr. Mark Heeter (IMCOM)March 13, 2009
SCHWEINFURT, Germany Aca,!" Stigma is a little, six-letter word with enormous consequences.
"Stigma kills," said Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Loree Sutton, special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense (health affairs) for psychological health and traumatic brain injury, borrowing a catchphrase she learned from colleagues in the Canadian armed forces.
"They consider stigma a deadly, toxic, workplace hazard. I like that term. Because as a leader, if any of us become aware of a deadly, toxic workplace hazard, we're not content with just minimizing it. No, we have to eliminate," Sutton said while visiting the Schweinfurt Health Clinic.
And one key to de-stigmatizing the mental and psychological challenges facing Soldiers upon redeployment is education, according to 1st Sgt. Creed McCaslin of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Lewis, Wash.
McCaslin joined Sutton on the Schweinfurt visit with Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Rhonda Cornum, director of the ArmyAca,!a,,cs comprehensive soldier fitness program, and Brig. Gen. Keith Gallagher, commander of Europe Regional Medical Command.
"We have to educate society. You have to understand, when a Soldier comes back, he's going to be different," said McCaslin, a Purple Heart recipient who has had logged four deployments in his Army career.
"It's just not like turning off the light switch" for Soldiers, and sometimes they have drastically different reactions to their environment, McCaslin said.
Cornum quickly added something else about the returning Soldier, as a matter of educating the unfamiliar.
"The majority of them will come back more appreciative of their family, more responsible. They will come back better able to determine what is important," she said.
Most redeploying troops return as better citizens after what can be a defining or changing moment in their lives, she said, especially reservists.
"They're going to come back, and they're going to reintegrate into their communities," Cornum said, adding that Aca,!A"they may have some of that hyper-alertness, they won't be the same Aca,!A| the ways they will come back better will not be obvious [initially]."
"I know for me, I appreciate life a lot more," acknowledged McCaslin. "Family's become a lot more important; society's become more important; my ethos in general, my values on life have changed and become a lot stronger."
Americans need to be engaged in a dialogue with the military to learn about mental health, mild traumatic brain injuries, and psychological impacts of combat, Sutton stressed.
"We want to educate the country and ignite the level of dialogue and hope," she said.