Veterans Get Counseling, But Families Often Left Out of the Loop
> 6/5/2007 1:34:20 PM

A recent statement by Ralph Ibson, Vice President of Mental Health America, before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs outlined the obstacles standing in the way of adequate mental health care for returning soldiers. He was ultimately optimistic, but explained that the problems spawned by the Iraq War are particularly grave because soldiers are being drawn from reserve forces that are not fully prepared, thrust into multiple tours, and then returned to rural communities without support networks.

Ibson identified inadequate support for veterans' families as a major flaw requiring immediate attention. While veterans are receiving reliable care at Veterans Affairs facilities, their wider support networks are too often ignored. Supportive family relationships are invaluable when trying to smooth out the transition from the horror of the battlefield to the confusion of civilian life. There are three major reasons, all of them surmountable, put forth for why families are not being included in treatment.

Firstly, the incentive system for doctors is not conducive to family support. Doctors may understand full well that they should be counseling family members, but they are not strongly motivated to do so because family counseling is not officially recognized in their payment system. In order to maximize the official workload measurement, families must be ignored. This can be easily remedied by modifying the measurement and payment system so that medical instinct more closely aligns with selfish interest.

Secondly, current regulations require that family counseling only be initiated when a soldier has been hospitalized. This is a thoughtless rule, because prevention of mental illness is preferable to curing it. The whole point of teaching families to be supportive is to keep soldiers out of the hospital.

Thirdly, there are not enough centers offering readjustment services. There are different types of facilities, and there exist only 200 of the VA centers that offer readjustment. Soldiers returning to rural areas are often too far away from a VA center to get help acclimating. This motley system is a relic of prior crises like the Vietnam War, but there are no actual regulations prohibiting all facilities from offering the full range of readjustment services.

All three of these obstacles need to be removed so that soldiers can make a healthy transition back into the society they fought to protect.

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