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Monday, February 12, 2007

"Brain Rangers" Honored for Treating OIF Combat Stressed Troops

A nice story found on WTEN News 10 out of Albany, NY:

A group of special soldiers from Massachusetts that deal with the stress of war are being honored. Each member of the 883rd Combat Stress Company were given a "Warrior Citizen's" award. Dr. Philip Burke was given a meritorious service medal for his years of service.

The 80 soldiers honored have been in Iraq helping soldiers deal with the physiological stress caused by the war. 60-year-old Army Lt. Col. Rob Parsons ran the mental health clinic in Baghdad.

Congratulations to every single one of them; they have provided an important service to our men and women overseas. Let's take a deeper look at what these combat operational stress teams do and see while deployed with our troops.

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

From Force Health Protection magazine:

Combat stress company helps deployed soldiers cope

Helping soldiers cope with the critical events that are sandwiched between arriving and departing a combat zone poses one of the biggest challenges for the staff of the 883rd Medical Company (Combat Stress Control).

The 883rd is divided into two groups, the prevention team and the restoration team, and each plays a pivotal role in the effort to minimize the effects of stress on the battlefield. "The prevention team is a smaller team. Their mission is to travel to units to make contact and let them know who we are, what we do, and how we can be of service to both the command and the individuals," said Maj. Ed Moschella, a psychiatric nurse with the 883rd at Logistical Support Area Anaconda, Iraq. "If they don't know us before an event, it's unlikely they'll call us."

One of the services offered by the traveling team is critical event debriefings when units lose a soldier or when a soldier is evacuated for medical treatment. ... After suffering a traumatic event, some soldiers need more in-depth or follow-up care. Enter Staff Sgt. Philip Burke, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the restoration team.

Burke has a master's degree in social work and a doctorate in education. As a clinician and an educator, he works hard to help soldiers heal the wounds their experiences can create. "From a clinician's point a view, I see some of the more complex situations," Burke said. "I see soldiers on a regular basis for counseling every week or two weeks."

Burke said there are three major points of a deployment at which soldiers are likely to seek counseling. "There's three periods when we see people. Some that are adjusting, just in the first 60 days of their deployment," Burke said. "Then, people in the middle phase, at about the six-month marker, it's kind of the same thing as a marathon. There's kind of a natural sense of, 'oh boy, there's another whole six months to go."

Burke added, "I'm really happy about how many soldiers come in to us in their last 60 days of deployment, not because they're worn out after 11 months on the job, but because they already identified some anxiety about provoking a situation at home that they need to begin thinking about. They're already beginning to adjust to home, thinking about what they need to do, and they're planning for it." ...

Part of the assessment is asking soldiers what their needs are. "We ask about what their thoughts are. How distressed are they? Are they having thoughts of hurting someone, or if they have thoughts of hurting themselves," Burke said. "Some have financial issues, some have relationship issues. Most of us need a lot of experience with the hellos and goodbyes of life."

A residential program is available for soldiers who need a step back from the source of their stress. "Some soldiers need to stay with us for a couple of days. Often we're changing their medication and evaluating that; getting them into a neutral site where there aren't any work demands and see if we can recharge their batteries," Burke said. "They come in from forward operating bases, having very long and demanding missions, maybe seeing the worst aspects of this conflict. They may not have the capacity to recharge their batteries. We can do that. Often it begins with just a good night's sleep."

A benefit of the residential program is that it creates an environment where the medical staff can help gauge and control a soldier's physical health. Patients who haven't been eating or sleeping well can recuperate from the physical effects of the critical events they've endured. Once the body has begun healing, they can go to work on the psychological effects of the event that can create a foundation for post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It's a place to talk about the things that you've seen, to understand you've been through a lot, and a place to help yourself out for the long haul so you don't develop the kind of foundation that may lead to some future conditions," Burke said. "A lot of people have this reservoir of difficult events in their life that they just haven't got rid of, and it starts to intrude on their daily life."

It's common for two soldiers to go through the same event and not be affected the same way. Although the staff of the 883rd spends some time thinking about why an event affects one soldier deeply while another is not affected, their main concern is for the soldier who needs assistance working through the stress that remains.

"Our job here is to deal with the soldier when it really sticks with them. We support resilience for any number of issues that happen during deployment, from the most horrific to the most ordinary," Burke said. "When people are left alone to deal with a critical event in their lives, they become a casualty. With talking, debriefing, then people can recover from that difficult event to be functional again."

He added that it's not unusual to have a reaction to life in a combat zone. "We're here in a difficult situation having a normal reaction to abnormal stress," Burke said. "These things don't happen to us when we're not deployed. We don't have to worry about improvised explosive devices or being shot at in Black Hawks when we're not deployed."

A few additional points from Army Medicine:

The "Brain Rangers" at the Camp Taji Combat Stress Clinic in Iraq help all who need assistance when they are homesick, stressed, have sleeping problems or maybe more serious issues.

The clinic is run by a team of Army Reservists from the 883rd Medical Company. ... The team consists of a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a psychiatric nurse, an occupational therapist, mental-health specialists and an occupational therapy technician. ...

The most common issues people have are being homesick, stressed out, anxiety or sleeping problems, said SSGT Sharon Harris, also a mental-health specialist. Things that trigger these problems vary. "Far and away, number one problem, hands down winner is home-front issues. It runs about 38 to 40 percent of everyone that walks in the door is because they are having trouble at home," Love said.

Treatment may be a few simple counseling sessions or three-day anger management workshops. In more serious cases patients are sent to a "restoration team" in Baghdad or Logistical Support Area Anaconda for more intensive therapy.

The most commonly prescribed medication is sleeping pills.

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