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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Des Moines Register Star: Soldiers Need Our Advocacy

Yesterday, a passionate editorial from the Des Moines Register Star appeared -- the paper that ran an incredible series of reports last weekend on combat PTSD. The editorial board says that every single recently-returned combat troop interviewed for their series said they are afraid to ask for help (for example, via VA programs) out of fear that the decision would affect their careers. The paper is calling for mandatory counseling of some sort for returning troops -- echoing the sentiments of many military families who've been witnessing the destruction of untreated combat PTSD.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

In the interest of carrying this important information forward, I'm reprinting the Register Star's editorial in full in the hopes they agree it's a worthy break in the usual copyright policy:

After the Vietnam war, some psychiatrists argued that features specific to that war, such as not being able to distinguish friends from enemies, extreme violence and unclear military goals, made it especially likely that soldiers would have long-lasting psychiatric problems. Some doctors called it "post-Vietnam syndrome."

Now American soldiers are involved in another war, this time in Iraq. A war of extreme violence. A war where it's difficult to know whether an approaching child is an innocent victim or a suicide bomber. A war in which political and military goals are intertwined.

Thousands of soldiers are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, an ailment resulting from exposure to the threat of serious injury or death. Symptoms can include nightmares, flashbacks, withdrawn moods and emotional numbness.

But too few soldiers are seeking help for their problems.

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that only about 20 percent of soldiers considered at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder had been referred for further treatment. In Iowa, new veterans number more than 9,125, but fewer than 2,000 have enrolled for veterans' benefits, which include mental-health treatment. That's about 21 percent, which is lower than the national average of veterans accessing benefits.

Yet military officials insist help is available.

Group therapy for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is offered weekly at the Des Moines VA Medical Center. One person has attended. In a survey given to reservists, there is a space to put your name and request help. The director of the U.S. Army Reserve's family programs in Iowa told the Register no one has asked for help.

Why not?

Every single soldier Register reporter Jennifer Jacobs interviewed for Sunday's articles on post-traumatic stress disorder told her the same thing: They fear getting help because doing so may harm their military careers.

That indicates a problem in the tone being set by the military. Commanders must send a clear message that seeking help for post-combat stress is not only OK, it's encouraged. In fact, soldiers should be told that not getting help for psychological problems may jeopardize a soldier's future career.

All branches of the military also should consider mandating that soldiers report for group therapy and counseling on a regular basis after they return home. If everyone has to attend, those who need help won't feel singled out. Required attendance at support meetings or counseling would help remove any stigma that accompanies post-traumatic stress disorder.

War is a series of horrific events. The experience can trigger problems in previously well-adjusted individuals. Indeed, it's hard to imagine anyone not being affected by exposure to extreme violence and threats to their lives. Soldiers should be no more afraid to seek counseling than someone who lost a leg.

The tone must be set that the mark of true bravery comes in seeking help, not suffering in silence.

Please email the Des Moines Register Star, and let them know that you appreciate their solid support of our troops on this issue. This a refreshing and much needed attitude. Bravo to them!

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