Time Magazine, Friday, May. 04, 2007
Panel: Troop Mental Health At Risk
By AP/HOPE YEN
The military is putting already strained troops at greater risk of mental health problems because of repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, a Pentagon panel said Thursday in warning of an overburdened health system.
Issuing an urgent warning, the Defense Department’s Task Force on Mental Health chaired by Navy Surgeon General Donald Arthur said more than one-third of troops and veterans currently suffer from problems such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
With an escalating Iraq war, those numbers are expected to worsen, and current staffing and money for military health care won’t be able to meet the need, the group said in a preliminary report released Thursday.
“The system of care for psychological health that has evolved in recent decades is not sufficient to meet the needs of today’s forces and their beneficiaries, and will not be sufficient to meet the needs in the future,” the 14-member group says.
Branding Pentagon policies overly conservative and out-of-date, the task force called for more money and a fundamental shift in treatment to focus on prevention and screening — rather than simply relying on soldiers to come forward on their own.
It cited a significant stigma in which soldiers believe they would be ridiculed or their careers damaged if they were to acknowledge having problems.
The four-page summary of findings, which will be incorporated in a final report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in June, comes amid renewed attention on troop and veterans care following recent disclosures of shoddy outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The task force found 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of Marines report psychological concerns such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from deployment.
Among members of the National Guard, the figure is much higher — 49 percent — with numbers expected to grow because of repeated deployments.
In recent weeks, several U.S. Senators have pointed to problems in the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs’ mental health care, citing the Army’s Fort Carson in Colorado, where some troops have said their pleas for mental health care went unanswered or were met with ridicule.
In its report, the task force — which visited 38 military bases in the four armed services within the past year — underscored many of the lawmakers’ fears. Without citing specific examples, it said soldiers too often don’t seek the care they need.
Care for family members also needed improvement, the report said.
Many base mental health programs have had to limit their practices to active-duty military, shutting family members out or forcing them to try to access civilian providers through the cooperative program known as Tricare. But in many places, the list of Tricare providers is small, inadequate or even incorrect.
Both the VA and the Pentagon in recent weeks have acknowledged a need to improve mental health treatment. Jan Kemp, a VA associate director for education who works on mental health, has estimated there are up to 1,000 suicides a year among veterans within the VA system, and as many as 5,000 a year among all living veterans.
A recent investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that just 22 percent of U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who showed signs of PTSD were being referred by Pentagon health care providers for mental health evaluation, citing inconsistent and subjective standards in determining when treatment was needed.
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Guardian (UK) Saturday, May 5, 2007
Iraq war strain leads troops to abuse civilians, survey shows
Ewen MacAskill in Washington
One in 10 of the US soldiers in Iraq mistreats civilians or damages their property, according to a survey published by the Pentagon last night. The report said the mental health of soldiers and marines deteriorated significantly as a result of extended or multiple deployments.
The study confirms the extent to which the US military is being strained by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The survey into the mental health of the soldiers and marines was requested by US commanders in Iraq and carried out by the office of the surgeon-general in August and October, with 1,300 soldiers and 450 marines interviewed.
The report says: “Approximately 10% of soldiers and marines report mistreating non-combatants (damaged/destroyed Iraqi property when not necessary or hit/kicked a non-combatant when not necessary).
“Soldiers that have high levels of anger, experienced high levels of combat, or screened positive for a mental health problem were nearly twice as likely to mistreat non-combatants as those who had low levels of anger or combat or screened negative for a mental health problem.”
The report also found that fewer than half of all soldiers and marines would report a team member for unethical behaviour, and more than one-third believed torture should be allowed to save the life of a fellow soldier or marine.
There are about 150,000 US troops in Iraq. Many have been complaining in emails and blogs about President George Bush’s decision this year to extend deployment from one year to 15 months as part of an attempt to pacify Baghdad and Anbar province.
The Pentagon this week imposed restrictions on internet postings from war zones, and claimed it was because of the risk of providing sensitive information to insurgents.
Blogs and emails from troops in the field can often be extraordinarily vivid and indiscreet.
One report last weekend from a soldier in Iraq advised a trooper in the US who was about to deploy in Iraq on ways to watch for and detect explosive devices planted by insurgents.
Reacting to the ban, soldiers said that the real reason for the curb was their negative comments about the war, including scepticism about Mr Bush’s claims about progress.
Soldiers in the field and former soldiers, in blogs posted on sites such as Black Five, an unofficial site run by former paratrooper Matthew Burden, said the regulations would be inoperable, with most troops obeying the rules but dissidents finding ways round the ban.
Mr Burden, editor of The Blog of War, a book pulling together accounts from the field, criticised the decision: “No more military bloggers writing about their experiences in the combat zone. This is the best PR the military has – its most honest voice out of the war zone.
“And it’s being silenced.”