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What More Can We Do To Ruin Our Military?

February 27, 2008

Military Doctors Withholding Treatment from Soldiers with Mental Health Problems
The military is denying crucial care to soldiers, making them vulnerable on the battlefield.

Since 9/11, one Army division has spent more time in Iraq than any other group of soldiers: the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, New York.

Over the past 6 years and and six months, their 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) has been the most deployed brigade in the army. As of this month, the brigade had completed its fourth tour of Iraq. All in all, the soldiers of BCT have spent 40 months in Iraq.

At what cost? According to a February 13 report issued by the Veterans for America’s (VFA) Wounded Warrior Outreach Program, which is dedicated to strengthening the military mental health
system, it is not just their bodies that have been maimed and, in some cases, destroyed. Many of these soldiers are suffering from severe mental health problems that have led to suicide attempts as well as spousal abuse and alcoholism.

As the VFA report points out, “Mental health experts have explained that ’shifting the goalposts’ on a soldier’s deployment period greatly contributes to an increase in mental health problems.”

Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that, during its most recent deployment, the 2nd BCT suffered heavy casualties. “Fifty-two members of the 2nd BCT were killed in action (KIA),” the VFA reports and “270 others were listed as non-fatality casualties, while two members of the unit remain missing in action (MIA).”

This level of losses is unusual. “On their most recent deployment,”
the VFA report notes, “members of the 2nd BCT were more than five times as likely to be killed as others who have been deployed to OEF and OIF and more than four times likely to be wounded.”

One can only wonder to what degree depression and other mental health problems made them more vulnerable to attack.

When they finally returned to Fort Drum, these soldiers faced winter conditions that the report describes as
“dreary, with snow piled high and spring still months away. More than a dozen soldiers reported low morale, frequent DUI arrests, and rising AWOL, spousal abuse, and rates of attempted suicide. Soldiers also reported that given the financial realities of the Army, some of their fellow soldiers had to resort to taking second jobs such as delivering
pizzas to supplement their family income.” What has the army done to help the soldiers at Fort Drum? Too little.

In recent months, VFA reports, it has been contacted by a number of soldiers based at Fort Drum who are concerned about their own mental health and the health of other members of their units. In response, VFA launched an investigation of conditions at Fort Drum, and what it found was shocking.

Soldiers told the VFA that “the leader of the mental health treatment clinic at Fort Drum asked soldiers not to discuss their
mental health problems with people outside the base. Attempts to keep matters ‘in house’ foster an atmosphere of secrecy and shame,” the report observed “that is not conducive to proper treatment for combat-related mental health injuries.”

The investigators also discovered that “some military mental health providers have argued that a number of soldiers fake mental health injuries to increase the likelihood that they will be deemed unfit for combat and/or for further military service.”

The report notes that a “conversation with a leading expert in treating combat psychological wounds” confirmed “that some military commanders at Fort Drum doubt the validity of mental health wounds in some soldiers, thereby undermining treatment prescribed by civilian psychiatrists” at the nearby Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown, NY.
Because some soldiers do not trust Samaritan, the report reveals that a number of “soldiers have sought treatment after normal base business hours at a hospital in Syracuse, more than an hour’s drive from Watertown … because they feared that Samaritan would side with base leadership, which had, in some cases, cast doubt on the legitimacy of combat-related mental health wounds. According to the VFA, the problem of military doctors refusing to back soldiers with mental health problems is widespread: “VFA’s work across the country has confirmed that soldiers often need their doctors to be stronger advocates for improved treatment by their commanders and comrades. For instance, soldiers need doctors who are willing to push back against commanders who doubt the legitimacy of combat-related mental health injuries.”

While talking to soldiers at Fort Drum, VFA also discovered “considerable stigma against mental health treatment within the military and pressure within some units to deny mental health problems as a result of combat. Soldiers at Fort Drum are not alone. In an earlier report titled “Trends in Treatment of America’s Wounded Warriors” VFA disclosed that leaders of the military mental health treatment system have been warning Department of Defense leadership of the magnitude of the mental health crisis that is brewing.

This is an epidemic of abuse that has long term implications. Twice wounded soldiers; once in Iraq or Afghanistan and a second time by their own country. These victims will be released into society with incomplete repairs. Our throw away society must not be applied to used human beings. The lowest bidder must not be imposed on our wounded. This is a glaring indictment on the Bush Administration who failed to accept the consequences of their insidious actions. Attacking the wrong enemy and loosing a generation of soldiers when the,y are needed in other places, is a monumental crime.

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One Comment
  1. February 28, 2008 5:10 am

    Radically new ways need to be found to help military personnel deal with the stress of their work. Recently, we had a marine on bigwhitewall.com who was feeling suicidal as a result of a tour he had in Iraq in which he saved a fellow soldier’s life by killing the sniper that was firing at him. More readily accessible services are needed such as online emotional health specialist bigwhitewall.com

    bigwhitewall.com is a support network where people can express whatever is on their mind openly, honestly and anonymously. The anonymity is critical as people often do not want others to know that they are struggling or fear being judged or misunderstood. Military personnel are classic examples of this. Our users express what they feel on bricks (using a state of the art Flash tool that can include your words, drawings and/or images) as well as finding peer support with those who are in similar situations. I am glad to report that this service has changed and saved lives. The marine who came to us stepped back from the brink of taking his own life and has gone on to talk of the issues he faces and how he is working through them – not least by engaging with others on bigwhitewall.com

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