Army Beginning to Better Address Mental Health Issues
> 5/21/2007 10:57:00 AM

In the midst of the ongoing controversy over the inadequate care offered to returning soldiers by the American military comes a hopeful report on collaborative efforts to move their policies in the right direction. According to an esteemed veteran's group, the Army has already begun to make many of the sweeping changes required in order to address the growing prevalence of depression, anxiety disorders and especially PTSD among veterans and active duty personnel.

Representatives of the group Veterans for America held closed-door meetings with officials from Colorado's Fort Carson Army Base, where many of the problems with our current policies have been made manifest in the form of public tragedy and complaints from soldiers regarding their treatment. At least eight soldiers from Fort Carson have committed suicide in the last two years (estimates place the yearly suicide number among active VA members at an astounding 1000), and others report encountering dismissive attitudes or threats of punishment from their superiors regarding complaints about what they believe to be inadequate treatment for mental health problems. The veteran's is currently reviewing at least thirty of these incidents. Some soldiers have been told that, in order to deal with their depression and anxiety, they may accept honorable discharges owing to a diagnosis of personality disorder. Unfortunately, such conditions qualify as pre-existing and preclude the soldiers from most medical benefits, leaving them to deal with the problems on their own. Making such a sacrifice in order to leave the service hardly seems warranted, and it leaves the soldiers with very few treatment options. At a location where nurses report that the percentage of soldiers requesting treatment for mental illness has more than doubled in the last year alone, these reports are not encouraging.

But the good news from Veterans for America is clearly the most significant, as they report establishing a positive dialogue with officials at the base. The army promised to allocate greater manpower toward investigating the claims of soldiers who believe that they were incorrectly diagnosed or that their discharges were handled inappropriately. One of the patients who tragically committed suicide after discharge from Fort Carson complained that, though he was actively seeking treatment, "...antidepressants and painkillers were no substitute for talking with someone who understood what it was like to kill." A psychologist working with the group voiced the opinion that those suffering from PTSD should at least initially be granted weekly visits to a therapist while trying to determine the most effective course of treatment to relieve the bulk of their symptoms. Despite the difficulties presented by PTSD, it is easier to treat than pronounced personality disorders, and if addressed early in its diagnosis it can be very effectively contained or eliminated altogether, though no amount of therapy can erase the trauamas of battle. The American military has, thankfully, at least begun to accept the reality of this challenge and address it accordingly. We hope, for the sake of the thousands of veterans who need more efficient care, that the process moves as quickly as possible, avoiding the inevitable bureaucratic tangles that often come at the expense of those who have bravely served and continue to serve their country in the United States military.

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