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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

DoD Mental Health Task Force Update

Today's News-Tribune devotes 20 full column inches of real estate to the just-concluded two day DoD Mental Health Task Force meeting held in Tacoma, Wash. Columnist Mike Gilbert's blog offers a few details on one of the people to testify:

[In my report,] I went with retired Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Adams' account because it was the first time he's told his story in public – a senior leader from one of the Fort Lewis Stryker brigades speaking bluntly about how emotionally tough it was for him and his troops. Adams said he is battling his own case of severe post-traumatic stress disorder and that it felt good to get what he had to say off his chest. He said he wants soldiers to know he's going to counseling.

"I'm not a walking time bomb," he said. "I just have some issues, because I didn't like all that stuff that was going on, and it's OK not to like that stuff. ... In our line of work, there's a lot of bravado. There's no bravado in killing people, nobody but a murderer truly likes to kill people."

UPDATE: Jan-24-07 11:22
The column is up; adding a few grafs below...

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

From the News-Tribune:

A combat infantryman who led 4,000 Stryker soldiers through a bloody year in Iraq says the Army must do more to help its men and women cope with the harsh emotional realities of war.

For all their preparations for Iraq, Thomas Adams said the troops from his Fort Lewis Stryker brigade weren’t ready for the hurt of losing buddies, and of killing. And the retired command sergeant major said fear of being stigmatized as weak or unbalanced continues to keep many soldiers from seeking the help they need. “We had all the new equipment training, all the generals came down and told us how good we were, sprinkled holy water on us. We were the best,” Adams told the Department of Defense Mental Health Task Force, meeting Tuesday in Tacoma.

But we had not one class. … Not one professional came in and talked to us about what it was going to be like when we lose somebody for real.” Adams wasn’t pointing fingers. He said as the unit’s top noncommissioned officer, he should have thought of bringing in experts to prepare him and his fellow leaders in the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division.

After 28 1/2 years of service, and his deployment to Iraq, Adams has retired. He also has PTSD. He came forward to speak of how the collateral damage, of unintentionally killing innocent women and children, affected him in ways he was not prepared to deal with.

“We killed 186 human beings needlessly,” Adams said. “I saw the looks on their faces every time they came back, and I was ill-prepared. What do you say to a guy who has killed a woman and a kid because the bad guy had hidden among them? “It’s crushing. … and I wasn’t prepared to do it.”

With his vast experience, Adams had concrete suggestions to offer the task force. Key among them is the need for training of line units and commanders in issues having to do with mental health.

Last month, the Mental Health Task Force met in Washington, D.C.

From the Army Times:

The Mental Health Task Force, established in June at the direction of Congress, is a 14-member panel made up of seven members from inside the Defense Department and seven non-defense health professionals. The task force will submit a final report in May 2007 with assessments and recommendations for improving the military’s mental health services.

The meeting [in Washington, D.C. was] the group’s fourth [last] year. The others have been field hearings in Texas, San Diego and the San Francisco area. The task force’s first planned meeting of 2007 has already been scheduled for Jan. 22 and 23 in Tacoma, Wash.

While the Washington state visit included a public hearing and comment period (online comments may still be submitted), the task force turns its focus this week to Fort Carson, Colo., conducting private interviews with some of the soldiers on base. (You may remember last month's explosive NPR report charging commanding officers at Fort Carson with intimidating troops attempting to seek mental health care.)

From the Rocky Mountain News:

Four members of the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health are visiting the Army post outside Colorado Springs to talk with active-duty soldiers, their families and key leaders about mental-health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, that have arisen since duty in Iraq, according to Army spokeswoman Cynthia Vaughan. ...

Lt. Gen. Kevin C, Kiley, Army surgeon general, has scheduled a Thursday press conference about behavioral-health issues, said 1st Lt. Gregory Dorman, a Fort Carson spokesman. However, Kiley will not discuss information or issues specific to the task force during the roundtable with members of the news media because the information is being gathered for the May report.

But, Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs for Veterans for America, contended the Fort Carson interviews should be open because of the highly publicized allegations of inadequate mental health treatment, or denied treatment, for soldiers returning from Iraq. "What we are saying is that there are soldiers who should have mental-health services and drug-and-alcohol services who didn't receive them and were kicked out of the military for disciplinary issues," he said. Closing the interviews "has the appearance of the Army's trying to control the story," Robinson said.

Members of the task force have visited some 30 stateside and foreign military bases conducting interviews and hearings. Their next international visit will be later this month:

From Stars & Stripes:

Mental health experts from a Department of Defense task force will be in Kaiserslautern later this month to hear from troops and their families. The meeting is scheduled for 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Jan. 31 at Kaiserslautern’s Vogelweh Community Center.

“Members want to hear from beneficiaries about all aspects of mental health care, including access, quality — even the stigma associated with seeking this care,” according to a news release. “They are also interested in understanding how deployments impact children and spouses, and about care received from civilian practitioners.”

The meeting is designed to foster frank discussions between servicemembers, their family members and the task force, the release stated. The forum is not open to the public or media.

Following the task force's final report to be delivered in May, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will have six months to formulate a plan based on the group's "assessment and recommendations for improving the effectiveness of mental health services provided to servicemembers," delivering it to Congress for approval and funding.

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