Friday, January 21, 2011

It's About Damned Time

For decades, the Pentagon fought the concept of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, much the same way that it fought the concept that exposing service men and women to Agent Orange resulted in horrific physical disability. The warrior mentality did not allow for such medical diagnoses. Our fighters were expected to tough it out, even years after their active duty when the symptoms were destroying both them and their families. It wasn't until the medical evidence became overwhelming for both exposures that the Pentagon was finally shamed into doing something about them.

That's why I was cheered by this sensible change by the military.

Screening soldiers for mental health issues before deploying them to Iraq helps reduce psychiatric or behavioral problems by more than three-quarters, according to a study published online Tuesday in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The study was conducted by Army Maj. Christopher Warner and four colleagues, who looked at a total of 21,031 U.S. Army soldiers in six brigades sent off to the same area in Iraq – three whose members were screened before being deployed, and three brigades whose members went before the screening procedures were put in place in 2007. ...

Out of the 10,678 soldiers in the three screened brigades, 819 were sent for more evaluation, and 74 of those soldiers were not cleared to deploy. Ninety-six were allowed to deploy but with conditions attached.

On the whole, the researchers found that over six-month periods, psychiatric or behavioral problems among the screened brigades serving in Iraq were 78% lower, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors were 50% lower.

The simple screening had the effect of improving the efficiency of the brigades sent to war, which is, I suppose, a pretty good idea. Some of our personnel have been sent into battle zones for extended periods multiple times. That's bound to take its psychic toll.

Since this screening has been so effective, maybe now would be a good time to initiate a comparable screening program for each and every service member coming off the battle field. Catching the effects of the stress of war and defusing some of it before the soldiers reach home would do not only them and their families a great service, it would also serve the interests of the communities to which they are returning.

Is the military ready to enter the 21st Century?

I guess it's too soon to tell.



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