JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Madigan Army Medical Center is gearing up for the return of 12,000 Soldiers from three Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigades and will call in extra providers from other military treatment facilities to help screen each Soldier for behavioral health issues.

In addition to the Army's Post-Deployment Health Assessment each Soldier completes upon redeployment, platoon leaders and sergeants will answer behavioral health questions about their Soldiers using a downrange assessment tool.

"This is a simple tool for leaders to use since they know their Soldiers best," said Col. Mark Thompson, deputy commander for clinical services. "The tool will ask very specific questions to identify potential risk."

Screenings will be especially thorough for the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which has seen heavy combat since its July 2009 deployment to Afghanistan. The unit has lost 35 Soldiers.

According to Thompson, in addition to the PDHA and the downrange assessment tool, each 5th Bn., 2nd Inf. Div. Soldier will meet with a behavioral health provider for an in-depth discussion to screen for wellness and resiliency issues.

"The focus of the interview will be, 'here are some hurdles you might encounter, and here are some coping strategies that can help you,'" Thompson said.

The interviews will occur within two weeks of the Soldiers returning home, but even Thompson said that might be too soon. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder might not surface for weeks or even months, and according to Thompson, the most identifiable trigger for PTSD is combat exposure.

"Frequently, when Soldiers come back and we are talking to them in the first week or two, they are still in the honeymoon phase. They are happy to be back home. Our feeling is if this can be pushed back further, it can be of more help," Thompson said.

Two additional Stryker brigades deployed to Iraq will receive the same behavioral health support. Every Stryker Soldier will be briefed about available resources such as Soldier Evaluation for Life Fitness, which provides a further assessment of a Soldier's physical, mental and spiritual health after he or she has completed block leave, and Family Assistance for Maintaining Excellence, which provides walk-in behavioral health services for children and spouses of Soldiers.

Julie Calohan works in the Madigan Healthcare System Strategic Communication Office. This article appeared in the Northwest Guardian.