JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WA-It’s not the sweeping change that those affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health issues for soldiers were waiting to hear, but the head of the Army says it took a critical step to helping those soldiers Monday.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh kicked off an Army-wide campaign intended to help improve behavioral health services for struggling soldiers, mainly by giving commanders, soldiers and families the resources they can use to provide quicker, more efficient help.
Still, the most anticipated tool in helping those soldiers – recommendations from an Army commissioned task force on how soldiers with mental health issues are evaluated – still hasn’t been released to the public.
Less than a year removed from commissioning that task force, McHugh took a firmer stance on something many in the military community – from active and retired soldiers to their families to doctors - already know: Soldiers struggling with PTSD and other mental health issues aren’t getting the help they need.
To help change that, the Army is developing the “Ready and Resiliency” campaign, which applies the same emphasis that JBLM has already put on its struggling soldiers to the entire Army.
“There is confusion,” McHugh said. “Often, commanders and those in charge with delivering care are unaware of certain benefits and programs and opportunities that are available. Other times they are aware of them but are uncertain how they might apply to certain soldiers. Interventions aren’t coming as early as we would like to see them, and as I know as commanders, we’d like to see them.”
Speaking to reporters, McHugh said the Army is taking the official stand, “to make sure that in the programmatic areas, we have a structure that provides commanders with the tools necessary.”
He called it a one-stop shop of information that will help the Army intervene with struggling soldiers quicker. It will also help assure the programs are more effective.
Commanders, McHugh said, will “have a consistency of understanding of what is available, when it’s available, when it’s applicable across the services. We really do believe this is an important step in providing a holistic, collaborative and coherent enterprise.”
The change in attitude is also intended to help fellow soldiers spot and help soldiers who are dealing with issues.
“We’re trying to instill that each and every level of training,” he told reporters, “that ‘Its your responsibility to keep an eye on your buddy.’ trying to give them the tools to understand the things to look for so that a friend can just step forward, put their arm around another soldier’s shoulder and say ‘C’mon let’s go get’s some help.’”
Although, officially, McHugh’s announcement Monday marked the first time the Army has taken a uniform approach to soldiers’ behavioral health – and by extension the alarming rate of suicides of those returning from combat - reporters Monday wanted a clearer idea about the findings of the task force the secretary convened last summer. He didn’t give a timetable as to when those findings and recommendations would be made public.
One reporter in attendance pointed out to McHugh that, for instance, it wasn’t necessarily the Army’s commanders or soldiers who contributed to a number of misdiagnoses at Madigan Army Medical Center. It was doctors.
Another reporter asked what kind of findings would be revealed from the report. McHugh said one “no-brainer” in the report is that disparity of command authority over the Army’s mental health programs makes them less accessible to soldiers.
McHugh added that the Department of Veterans Affairs is also working with the Army to assure it “irons out the seams of the continuing of care” once a soldier is no longer active.
“There’s no single, simple way with which you can approach this,” he said.
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