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Senators Push For Better Mental Health Care

Senators Push For Better Mental Health Care May 23, 2007 Democrats Focus On Army Soldiers At Fort Carson
(AP) FORT CARSON, Colo. Fort Carson still faces “significant challenges” providing mental health services to soldiers, despite taking steps to improve care, six senators told Defense Secretary Robert Gates Tuesday.

The senators, including presidential candidates Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, R-N.Y., sent Gates a letter saying the stigma of mental illness is a significant barrier to care.

Staffers for Obama, Clinton, and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Kit Bond, R-Mo., Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Kerry, D-Mass., met with soldiers and commanding officers at Fort Carson last week to investigate mental health care. They said a more detailed report would come later.

“All of their suggestions are helpful,” Fort Carson spokeswoman Dee McNutt said Tuesday. “The visits we had with them were helpful. They gave us a lot of great comments. The No. 1 priority is taking care of soldiers and their families, and them helping us do that is an added benefit.”

Fort Carson and Army officials have acknowledged the stigma associated with mental illness and said they have been training young officers to recognize problems. Fort Carson has said it will not tolerate those who discourage soldiers from seeking treatment.

Also Tuesday, members of Colorado’s congressional delegation sent a separate letter to acting Army Secretary Pete Geren, saying they “found evidence (at Fort Carson) of a health care system under strain.”

The letter was signed by both of Colorado’s senators and four of its seven representatives.

The letter said the Army needs national policy adjustments and more resources to meet the needs of soldiers and their families.

The letter acknowledged Fort Carson has taken steps to address mental health, such as adding case workers.

But it said multiple high-stress deployments have stressed Fort Carson’s resources, and more mental health providers and case managers are needed.

In January, the post said it had about one psychiatrist for every 2,400 soldiers. McNutt said Tuesday that the post is in the process of hiring seven more staff workers for the behavioral health section.

“As Fort Carson grows, we will continue to stay ahead of that and hire more behavioral health specialists,” she said.

Some soldiers have said they were not receiving comprehensive treatment for post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury after returning from Iraq.

Earlier this year, the American Psychological Association released a study that found the military’s mental health system was overwhelmed and understaffed, leaving many soldiers, veterans and families without the care they needed.

All Fort Carson soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are screened for traumatic brain injuries. The Army post was the first to announce it will try brain-scan equipment to help detect brain injuries in soldiers returning from Iraq.

The Colorado delegation suggested that the Army consider replicating those initiatives at other bases.

Steve Robinson of Veterans for America has said the Army is making a “dramatic turn” in handling soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He attended the meetings between Fort Carson officials and legislative staff last week and said commanders agreed to improve efforts to educate officers about the disorder and take steps to amend records of wrongly diagnosed soldiers. Robinson also said more medical and case workers would be needed to help treat soldiers.
By Catherine Tsai, AP Writer
(© 2007 The Associated Press.

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