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Monday, July 02, 2007

One-Third of Dishonorably-Discharged Marines Exhibit Mental Health Conditions

From USA Today:

Battle stress may cause combat-hardened Marines with clean records to get into trouble after they return home, according to new Marine Corps research. The Marines have a plan to help these troops but not the resources to implement it, said a leading mental health expert with the Corps. Stress-related misconduct can involve drug and alcohol abuse and may result in dismissal from the service and the denial of Department of Veterans Affairs services.

In the first four years of the Iraq war, 1,019 Marines were dismissed with less-than-honorable discharges for misconduct committed after overseas deployments, said Navy Capt. William Nash, who coordinates the Marines' combat stress program. At least 326 of the discharged Marines showed evidence of mental health problems, possibly from combat stress, according to the Marine study.

Nash said he urges that "any Marine or sailor who commits particularly uncharacteristic misconduct following deployment … be aggressively screened for stress disorders and treated." He said the screening results could be used to ease the tough military prosecution of misconduct in cases involving post-traumatic stress disorder. USA TODAY reported in November that veterans with less-than-honorable discharges are usually denied health care services by the VA. Nash's mental health study was conducted after that article was published.

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The Marine Corps and Navy, which provides medical services to the Marines, have not started screening because they don't have the mental health workers to provide it, Nash said. His proposal has been pending since early this year.

The chronic shortage of military mental health caregivers is highlighted by several recent task force investigations, including one by the Defense Mental Health Task Force created by Congress last year. Co-chaired by Navy Surgeon General Donald Arthur, the task force report released last month called military mental health staffing "woefully inadequate" and complained of a continuing stigma within the military toward PTSD.

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