Better Mental Health Services for Soldiers a Slow Processs
> 10/1/2007 11:49:25 AM

Many soldiers stationed in Iraq or returning home from Iraq will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while others will struggle with substance abuse problems or cope with the lasting effects of traumatic brain injury. However, according to a Pentagon report released in June, mental health care services provided for soldiers and veterans remain insufficient and suffer from a lack of resources. Although the number of deployed troops increased by 30,000 this year, the number of mental health professionals accessible to troops and veterans decreased. The number of counselors in Iraq dropped from one for every 668 troops last year to one for every 743 troops this year, with many counsellors leaving the army to seek less stressful positions.

Compounding these problems are the situations of soldiers discharged from service after being diagnosed with a personality disorder. Because personality disorders are considered preexisting conditions, this diagnosis signifies that the soldier's symptoms are completely unrelated to time spent in Iraq and not the result of PTSD or other combat-related conditions. A soldier diagnosed with a personality disorder becomes ineligible for the disability checks and health care benefits that should be available to any soldier suffering a war-related physical or mental disability. Additionally, any soldier discharged with such a diagnosis who did not serve their full term is required to pay back the bonuses they received, meaning that many soldiers are discharged from service  only to discover they owe the government several thousand dollars. Many suspect that the personality disorder diagnosis has been abused by military officials in order to quickly dispose of less effective soldiers— those who have developed mental health problems— while also saving the government money. Over the past six years, 22,500 people have been discharged after being diagnosed with a personality disorder.

In response to the June report, the U.S. government has acknowledged the growing problem of mental health care for soldiers and veterans and has pledged to make changes. The military intends to increase health care coverage for veterans and their families and to hire more mental health professionals, but these changes cannot be made until May 2008. Many other recommended changes cannot be made until even later. Some politicians have responded specifically to the plight of those discharged with a personality disorder diagnosis. Senators Christopher Bond, R-Mo., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., have added a provision to the defense authorization bill that will stop military officials from diagnosing soldiers with personality disorders until more can be done to prevent the casual diagnosis of personality disorders.

Recognition of the problems surrounding mental health care for the military is a start, but more needs to be done to help soldiers and veterans receive effective care more quickly. Quick treatment  can prevent mental health problems from becoming lasting and debilitating, and with an estimated ten soldiers discharged from the military every day for mental health reasons, adequate treatment for soldiers and veterans needs to become a priority.

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