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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Army to Hire 25% More Mental Healthcare Workers, Senate Committee Votes to Increase TBI, PTSD Screening

Good news, from AP earlier this week:

Overwhelmed by the number of soldiers returning from war with mental problems, the Army is planning to hire at least 25 percent more psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. A contract finalized this week but not yet announced calls for spending $33 million to add about 200 mental health professionals to help soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health needs, officials told The Associated Press on Thursday.

"As the war has gone on, PTSD and other psychological effects of war have increased," said Col. Elspeth Ritchie, psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general. "The number of (mental health workers) that was adequate for a peacetime military is not adequate for a nation that's been at war," she said in an interview.

The new hiring, which she said could begin immediately, is part of a wider plan of action the Army has laid out to improve health care to wounded or ill veterans and their families. It also comes as the Defense Department completes a wider mental health study - the latest in a series over recent months that has found services for troops have been inadequate.

Ritchie said long and repeat deployments caused by extended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are causing more mental strain on troops. "At the time that the war began, I don't think anybody anticipated how long it would be going on," she said.

This week we also saw the release of a long-awaited DoD Task Force on Mental Health report, and the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to boost military disability pay and increase screening for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday unanimously approved legislation that would improve medical care for service members returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, CongressDaily reports (Gambrell, CongressDaily, 6/15). The bill would eliminate inconsistencies in the disability compensation system and calls for a review of cases in which service members received low disability ratings to determine whether they were given adequate benefits. The measure would increase military severance pay and provide $50 million to improve diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of veterans with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The legislation also would provide more counseling for families of service members wounded in combat. In addition, the bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary and the Department of Defense secretary to develop a comprehensive care plan for veterans by Jan. 1, 2008. The two departments also would be required to establish an interagency office to develop a joint system for electronic health records.

Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said, "This is record-breaking time we've been able to put together such a comprehensive bill and a much-needed addition to the treatment and care of wounded warriors and veterans" (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 6/15). Richard Daley, associate legislative director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said the measure, along with similar veterans' legislation passed this year, has greatly improved veterans' care. He said, "This could be one of the best years for veterans in decades" (Whitney, McClatchy/Lexington Herald-Leader, 6/15). The measure now moves to the Senate floor (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 6/15).

Both good steps forward...

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