By Kirk FradyMay 3, 2012
After more than ten years of combat on two separate fronts necessitating multiple combat deployments by Soldiers and the associated Family separations, the Army is keenly aware of unique mental and physical stressors facing Soldiers and their Families. That is why the Army is joining the nation in recognizing National Behavioral (Mental) Health Month throughout the month of May.
According to the Army database, 8 percent of the Soldiers deployed between 2001 and 2011 received a behavioral health diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But, while not all Soldiers deployed received this diagnosis, many experienced related symptoms that could benefit from behavioral health treatment. Military researchers note that approximately 15 percent of Soldiers deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom experienced post traumatic stress symptoms, and another 10 to 15 percent will experience other behavioral health-related problems.
"Despite these statistics, overall, the total Army rate of Soldiers with a behavioral health diagnosis is consistent with that of the general US population, at 5.9 percent vs. 6 percent," said Lt. Cdr. Kathleen Watkins, chief of the administrative branch, Behavioral Health Division, Office of the Surgeon General.
"The Army is committed to decreasing the stigma associated with seeking behavioral healthcare," assures Watkins, "and it wants Soldiers and Families to get help when they need it." Watkins adds, "It is important that Soldiers and Families understand that issues resulting from deployment are treatable, usually curable and with proper treatment, the majority of people with behavioral health issues can return to productive and engaging lives."
To help Soldiers and Family better cope with these stressors associated with combat and family separations, the Army offers an array of behavioral health services at military treatment facilities across the Army and as well as in the theaters of operations. In theater, combat and operational stress control teams are forward-deployed to provide psychological care to combatants as close to the battle as possible.
Additionally, behavioral health professionals are assigned to MTFs wherever Soldiers are deployed. "In FY12," Watkins pointed out, "the Army is increasing behavioral health teams assigned to all its brigade size operational units that will provide two behavioral health providers and two behavioral health technicians assigned to every Brigade Combat Team, Support Brigade and Sustainment Brigade in the Active, Reserve and National Guard Army inventory. This increase will be complete by FY17 and increase the total available uniformed behavioral health force by more than 1,000 additional personnel."
There's help for Soldiers no matter where they may be stationed. Watkins says, "The Army is improving access to care by offering tele-behavioral health services in 51 countries/territories across 19 time zones, allowing Soldiers and Family members in remote locations the ability to link to behavioral health providers at different locations."
Tele-behavioral health provides high-quality, cost-effective, timely access to outpatient behavioral health care, regardless of the location. This resource aids in overcoming limited provider availability, geographic distance, scheduling difficulties and the social stigma that sometimes surrounds seeking behavioral healthcare.
The Army also provides routine behavioral healthcare, periodic assessments, and suicide prevention programs. Chaplains, Military OneSource, and Family Morale Welfare Recreation Command also offer substantial support to Soldiers and Families.
A wide assortment of behavioral health services available to Soldiers and their Families can be viewed in this Army Medicine link: http://www.behavioralhealth.army.mil/
In addition to tele-behavioral health, the Army implemented the Behavioral Health System of Care Campaign Plan intended to standardize and further enhance the effectiveness of behavioral health policies and procedures across the Army Medical Command and to ensure a seamless continuity of care to better identify, prevent, treat and track behavioral health issues affecting Soldiers and Families during every phase of the Army Force Generation cycle.