The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Today is Veteran’s Day

Deploying for Iraq from Ft. Hood

On to the war!

I have not posted for several days, but I have been struggling with the ongoing issues happening here in Texas.  Though I currently live in Austin, I used to live in Killeen and I worked on Ft. Hood at the Darnall Army Hospital on the psychiatric unit.  So, you can understand that I was very emotionally touched by the shootings.  Add to the mix that my son-in-law, who is just like my own flesh and blood, has just retired from the Army after 20 years and just returned from a 15 month tour in Iraq.  I am familiar with the families on the post and with the ongoing trials and tribulations they face daily without having to deal with a “shooter” on the post.

I have seen first hand the way our military men and women are treated when they have emotional or psychiatric issues.  Some of these soldiers should never have been allowed to enlist because of a long history of adolescent psychiatric issues prior to their interactions with a recruiter.  Some of these soldiers are no more than teenagers who have never been away from home before and are not emotionally prepared to be treated as adults.  Some of these soldiers have been to war and returned “different” from the way they left–either physically or mentally.

Whatever the source of the emotional/psychological conflict, I have seen the treatment these fragile souls receive from their leaders, their friends, their co-workers.  Granted, being a soldier is all about being “tough and hard as nails no matter what” but no one can be that 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and not pay a price.

Another issue I have seen first hand is how the Army deals with a young adult who has a first psychotic break and who will eventually be diagnosed as schizophrenic.  New enlisted recruits are in the age bracket for these episodes and, just like on our college campuses, they occur whether we admit it or not.

I have also seen my quota of soldiers who are working the system and trying to find a way out of going to war.  In my time, they just ran away to Canada, but today’s soldiers really do have emotional conflict about serving their country and going to war.

We are at war.  We don’t have to agree.   We don’t have to like it.  We don’t have to support it.  We are at war.

What we do have to do, as a nation, is provide comfort and support to those who serve.  Whether service was in the past or service is now and in the future, we owe them comfort and support.  What are we going to do about it?

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Published – Thursday, November 05, 2009

Column: Don’t neglect mental health services for vets

By John A. Scocos

 

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Veterans Day in Wisconsin is a special moment of reflection for the more than 427,000 veterans in this state. Their service spans not only the last century but also reaches into the 21st century.

As I reflect on my second deployment to Iraq I am acutely aware of the physical, mental, and psychological costs borne by our military men and women currently serving in our country’s conflicts. And these costs do not end with their active duty assignments. Reintegration bears its own costs, as veterans attempt to resume their varied roles in civilian life and society: mother, father, son, daughter, friend, employee, student, etc. I can tell you from personal experience that, even under the best of circumstances, this transition is a difficult one.

Of the veterans living in the state, the number includes the 128,273 Wisconsinites who joined the ranks of deployed or returning veterans since the Persian Gulf War (August, 1990). During the most recent U.S. military conflicts (i.e., Persian Gulf War, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq) current figures show that Wisconsin lost more than 114 of its daughters and sons (as of 10/26/2009). A current estimate of Wisconsin’s disabled veteran population indicates that greater than 51,210 individuals suffer some degree of disability related to their military duty, and trend analyses reveal an increasing rate of physical and mental health disorders for personnel deployed in service for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

It is clear that these individuals have paid a great cost for our freedom. Know that their families and communities have paid a price as well. And, for their service, their personal loss, and their families’ and communities’ losses we are grateful and we owe them. But, also be aware that we all will continue to pay a price if we do not provide these service members with the tools needed to reintegrate themselves into our communities in a positive and healthy way. By any account, the level of funding and the amount of care available and accessed is sadly short of the need.

At the most fundamental level, positive reintegration requires mental health assessment and opportunities for meaningful work or job training. Though we can always do better, Wisconsin continues to make great strides in providing educational opportunities for veterans.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said with respect to mental health and support for returning veterans and their families. Recent research reports acknowledge that soldiers returning with musculoskeletal and mental health disorders typically receive fewer benefits than those with cardiovascular or neurological conditions. Currently and historically, military men and women often do not seek out help, particularly for mental health difficulties, on their own. A recent study at Walter Reed Army Medical Center involving over 6,100 army personnel and marines indicates that of those troops returning from duty in Iraq or Afghanistan that are positive for mental health disorders, only between 23-40 percent actually seek help. Collectively, other research reports provide a grim picture of the ongoing costs of human suffering and opportunity lost for our returning veterans, their families, and our communities:

* 25-40 percent of returning veterans experience a mental health disorder with rates highest among national guard and reserve components.

* U.S. Army suicide rates are at an all time high (during Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts).

* Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Blast Injury (TBI), and depression are greater than in previous conflicts (during Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts)

* Substance abuse and domestic violence are tightly associated with PTSD, TBI, and depression and are a primary cause of separation and divorce for military families.

If we do not connect with our military personnel upon their arrival back to Wisconsin and follow up with needed physical, mental, and educational information, programs, and interventions we, as a society, are likely to pay for their service for a very long time. It is the right thing to do and the fiscally responsible thing to do. Freedom has a cost that we all bear.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Wisconsin Warrior Summit held at the War Memorial Center in Milwaukee. This conference was for mental health professionals, community organizations, veterans, and their families. The conference organizers were Dryhootch and the Mental Health Community of Wisconsin. Dryhootch, located in Milwaukee, is a veterans outreach program made up of a group of Vietnam veterans who have dedicated themselves to working with returning veterans.

Less than one percent of the population of the United States is currently serving in the armed forces. As a state, and as a nation, we need to find the resources to fund programs that benefit veterans. When we benefit our veterans we also benefit their families, our communities, and our society as a whole.

On this Veterans Day, it is time to recognize and act on our commitment to our veterans. Their service and sacrifice, in a very real sense, make them this era’s Greatest Generation.

John A. Scocos serves as the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

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November 11, 2009 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , , ,

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