VA To Pentagon: Veterans Need Mental Health Screenings

September 25, 2008

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue, we’ve had more and more Troops return home suffering from PTSD and TBI. The stigma attached to asking and getting mental health help has been long standing and the Military is fighting an uphill battle in an attempt to cast aside that stigma and encourage our Troops to seek the help that they need. The Military has put in place several different things to assess the mental health of our Troops as they return home from deployments, as well as at regular intervals following their deployment. Unfortunately, because of the stigma, Troops often will skip subsequent screenings and when problems arise, they often will not seek help, out of fear that it will affect their careers.

On Saturday, in Los Angeles, senior physicians with the VA medical system told Admiral Mullen, the top US Military officer, that the Pentagon needs to overhaul the way it discharges Troops, as hundreds of them are leaving military service with undiagnosed and thus untreated combat related mental health problems. 1

The doctors are advocating mandatory mental health screenings for all service members retiring after service in war zones. What they don’t mention is, that at least in the Army, there are already mandatory Post Deployment Mental Health Assessments immediately upon returning from the combat zone, and at 3 month intervals thereafter for the first year. The problem is that often Troops will skip the follow-up screenings or be dishonest when answering the questions. This is out of fear that if they say they’re experiencing difficulties, it can have an adverse affect on their careers. As the doctors stated, few Troops acknowledge or seek help because of the stigma attached. The doctors stressed that combat stress related mental health issues become more difficult to treat, the longer someone waits to get help.

“We need to make it a gradual discharge process with milestones, whether it’s six months or a year, whatever it takes,” said Dr. Robert Rubin, chief of mental health at the Veterans Administration healthcare system for Greater Los Angeles. “The stigma goes away if they have no choice but to go for the exams.” 2

Since he was appointed as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a year ago, Mullen has worked hard to change the military healthcare system. He’s an advocate of the Pentagon changing and improving the way that they take care of returning Troops who are suffering from physical and mental health injuries. He has ordered a senior staff officer to put together recommendations to provide to the Pentagon, as the veterans are handed over to the VA healthcare system. One goal is to make that process more seamless and easier to deal with. Mullen states that one of his big concerns is that the DoD loses track of veterans once they leave the military. That makes it difficult for them to follow their mental and physical health.3

“These people are so precious to us, we don’t have much contact with them anymore,” Mullen said. “We have to figure out a way to have a system that is integrated, to know where everybody is, so we can rest comfortably that those who have sacrificed so much are taken care of.” 4

Mullen shared that many of the changes that need to be made to the healthcare system, will require legal action by Congress, and that because of that, changing the discharge process might be difficult. Mullen is currently on a trip scheduled to take place over a week, to Texas and California. During his trip, he’ll be making stops at several mental health facilities for veterans.

Last Thursday, Mullen visited the R & R Center at Fort Bliss, Texas. As our readers know from past posts I’ve made about this center, Soldiers suffering from PTSD are treated aggressively by professionals trained in traditional mental health treatment as well as holistic treatments, such as acupuncture, biofeedback, meditation, and reiki to name a few. He was also scheduled to visit a homeless program in Los Angeles on Monday.

Whether we work in the military healthcare system, or we’re a Veteran or Soldier or a friend or family member, we need to make sure we continue to fight the stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment. That can start by teaching Senior Leaders to encourage their Soldiers to seek help and if they themselves are experiencing difficulties, seeking help themselves. What better way, then to lead by example? Leaders need to ensure that their Soldiers are obtaining the help they need and holding them accountable if they refuse to do so. We need to ensure that the screenings that are done, aren’t ones that veterans can “fudge” on, so a not to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. We need to do everything in our power to ensure, that another generation of Veterans who might be suffering from combat related mental health issues, aren’t left hanging and that they receive the help they need.

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One Response to “VA To Pentagon: Veterans Need Mental Health Screenings”

  1. VA To Pentagon: Veterans Need Mental Health Screenings | The Exercise Site on September 25th, 2008 3:18 am

    [...] here: VA To Pentagon: Veterans Need Mental Health Screenings Categories : Mental [...]

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