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Monday, March 26, 2007

Update on Fort Carson's Treatment of Soldiers Seeking Help for PTSD

Prior to the Washington Post's headline-grabbing reports on conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, NPR's December investigation of Fort Carson, Colo., caused quite a stir. Soldiers said that they were being intimidated, stigmatized -- and worse -- by company commanders if they dared come forward needing mental health or PTSD help. Investigations and task force visits followed; today, the Colorado Springs Gazette offers an update:

Leaders at Fort Carson say they’re trying to change Army culture by leading the way in compassionate care for soldiers with war-caused mental illness. But they admit they’ve got a long way to go to shed the stigma that only cowards suffer combat stress. ...

The general said people under his command are getting the message, and Fort Carson is doing more than ever to treat mentally ill soldiers and return them to the battlefield. The Army gets a big assist from civilian care providers in Colorado Springs.

Critics, including mental health activist and ex-soldier Andrew Pogany, say the Army is still letting scores of soldiers slip through cracks. But even Pogany admits the Army is improving its level of care.

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

In the interest of education, article quoted from extensively.


Since 2003, every soldier returning from Iraq or Afghanistan to Fort Carson has been screened for mental illness symptoms. Unit chaplains are also asked to identify soldiers who might have mental health difficulties.

Those soldiers are referred to the post’s 38 licensed mental health workers, who range from psychiatrists to social workers. Col. Steve Knorr, the post’s top psychiatrist, said his contingent of mental health workers has nearly doubled since the Iraq war began in 2003. ...

Treatment at Fort Carson ranges from a walk-in clinic to group therapy sessions for patients with ongoing needs, Knorr said. Most soldiers who have symptoms of mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder, stay in the Army and return to active duty, including many who are prescribed antidepressants, which Knorr said have proven safe and effective for deployed troops. ...


Fort Carson lacks facilities to hospitalize patients for psychiatric care. [Col. John Cho, who commands the post hospital] said the post couldn’t justify the expense in light of the available civilian facilities in Colorado Springs. “We see many active-duty service people from Fort Carson,” said Dr. Stephanie Purcell, a psychiatrist at St. Francis Behavioral Health Services. “We certainly are seeing a great deal of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Purcell said that at any given time five or six patients in the 26-bed unit east of downtown are from the military. The same is true at Cedar Springs Behavioral Health System, CEO Elaine Crnkovic said. “When all this started, we saw a lot of people who were stressed about going to war,” she said. “Now we’re seeing the guys who have gone and come back — once, twice, three times — and are very anxious about going back again.”

Crnkovic said the cases at Cedar Springs have become “more complex” because of multiple traumatic wartime experiences. “That seems to create layers and layers of the stress, so there’s more to work through,” she said.

Most soldiers at St. Francis, Purcell said, are referred there from Fort Carson and voluntarily check themselves in. Some soldiers, though, are there on an involuntary 72-hour hold. They’ve been deemed a danger to themselves or others, perhaps because of psychosis or severe depression. Over three days, they are evaluated and could be court-ordered to stay longer.

Crnkovic and Purcell also are seeing substance abuse related to PTSD. “Unfortunately, that is not rare. We do see many people who make an attempt to deal with their symptoms by using, for example, alcohol or other substances,” Purcell said.

Read the rest, then head over to take a look at two more in their series [ 1 | 2 ] to hear how troops are faring.

[UPDATE Mar 27 2007]: Some Fort Carson stats found in another Gazette piece carried by MarineCorps Times yesterday:

Nearly 600 Fort Carson soldiers were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder last year, up from 102 cases in 2003 when soldiers started returning from their first tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the fourth straight year with a significant increase in the number of soldiers being diagnosed with PTSD. ...

The rise in PTSD cases mirrors a rise in crime statistics at Fort Carson. The number of soldiers going AWOL for a month or more went from 22 in 2003 to 110 last year. Domestic violence reports rose from 21 in 2003 to 79 last year, and theft reports jumped from 68 to 179. ...

Thousands of Fort Carson soldiers have been to Iraq twice since the war began in 2003, and hundreds have served there three times or more. The post’s 3,600-soldier 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team will head to Iraq in September for its third yearlong tour in five years.

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