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Many returning from war don’t get needed counseling – Stigma remains an issue; better screening sought.

Many returning from war don\’t get needed counseling – Stigma remains an issue; better screening sought. WASHINGTON — January 21, 2007– Mental health screening isn’t consistent for US troops returning from war, and if they don’t say they need help they often don’t get it, the Army’s top medical officer said.

“If an individual checks nothing, I have no mental health issues, they’re not necessarily being sent to mental health counseling,” said Army Surgeon General Kevin Kiley, speaking Friday at a hearing on military medical readiness before the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

It is estimated that 17 percent of returning service members have post-traumatic stress disorder or severe anxiety and depression, compared with about 6 percent or 7 percent of the general population, Kiley said.

Studies show some troops fear being stigmatized if they acknowledge they have problems such as nightmares, hypervigilance, or anxiety. Or, some want to spend time with their families instead of getting mental health help.

To better help them, Navy Surgeon General Donald Arthur said some of the mental health screening has been delayed a couple of months so that troops can first spend time with their families.

Kiley said the amount of face-to-face counseling of returning troops is increasing, and those who seek help are getting it, with encouragement from the military.

Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, asked if shortening deployment lengths could help. Many troops spend more than a year deployed in a war zone.

Arthur said deployment length and the effect it has on a soldier’s health is under review, but the consensus is that the effect varies with the intensity of the deployment.

“If you are on the front lines going door to door in Fallujah . . . perhaps three months is an appropriate time,” Arthur said. “If you are in Kuwait or Djibouti as many of our folks are, then perhaps a year is all right, so we’re trying to tailor those deployment lengths to the length of the threat.”

Charles Marmar, chief of staff for mental health at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, recommended that federal money be used to develop a brain screening that would help identify when a returning soldier potentially has mental health issues.

After the hearing, Murtha said he supports that recommendation. While things have improved, it will be a long time before the stigma in the military associated with seeking mental health help goes away, said Murtha, a decorated Vietnam war veteran and retired Marine colonel.

For troops today, “unless you want to be helped, they aren’t going to get help is what it amounts to,” Murtha said.

A separate study this month found that an escalating number of war-related health care claims is putting a strain on the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The report, written by Linda Bilmes, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, analyzed the effects of rising health care needs on the budget and capacity of the VA.

The report recommends several measures to address the problems, including increased staffing, funding, and capacity, particularly for mental health treatment.
SOURCE:- By Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press |
© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

SOURCE:- By Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press |
© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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