New Mental Health Support Important, But Is It Enough for the Troops?
> 7/18/2007 10:18:30 AM

There's more news today regarding the upgraded mental health services that the men and women of our military will be receiving. Yesterday was a busy day for Veterans Affairs, who announced both an increase in mental health funding and the resignation of the department's head, Jim Nicholson. In today's news, reported last night by the AP, the Army elucidated its plan for improved training of all personnel with regards to post-traumatic stress and brain injuries: two outcomes that have plagued returning vets. The program being put in place aims to educate service men and women about the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress and brain injuries in hopes of removing the stigma and improving recognition, both of which should lead to better care.

The program, while a positive step forward, must be seen in the context of the increasingly negative situation that the Army faces. The US's military endeavors are struggling to maintain support in nationwide polls. At the same time Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, along with President Bush, has called for increases in troop numbers as part of a surge to quell violence in Iraq. These factors, along with many other complicating issues, have led to dwindling enlistment numbers, which have resulted in missed enlistment goals over the last two months. All of this has led to extension in tours of duty for those already active in the military.

The newly announced efforts to support the mental health of our troops, much needed as they may be, might not be enough to counter the increased stress and burden of extended tours. These efforts may help some soldiers in the short run, but as tours of duty are being increased—most recently from 12 months to 15 months—individual troop fitness will suffer no matter how many training sessions they may have about mental health. Included in the new slate of changes is also an increase in "R & R" time, otherwise known as time-off. For those in active combat zones, these days represent time away from the front lines and the most dangerous assignments. For a soldier dealing with stress, or who feels as though he is on the edge, these days can be the difference between going on and being injured or killed. With tours increasing by three months, the Army has granted soldiers an extra three days of R & R—or an extra day per month.

No one has ever said that war is easy, and the US Armed Forces remain the best in the world, but it is still plain to see where we may be starting to place an undue burden on the men and women who have volunteered to serve. The Army has been aggressive as of late about addressing concerns regarding both mental and physical health, and for that they should be commended. Our leaders understand that the well-being of each soldier is important to the overall effectiveness of our fighting force. We must continue to be vigilant about assessing weaknesses in our care of soldiers: those who have been injured as well as those still in active duty. As a nation we have reiterated our resolve, even in the face of challenge, and we must be sure that that resolve extends to the care and support for our troops.

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