Just to save our readers the trouble of finding it themselves, or remembering to go check today, if you liked the article I linked yesterday about the military’s struggles with providing adequate mental health care to returning war vets, here’s today’s column.

Soldiers face considerable stigma for seeking mental healthcare in some Army units. Old habits die hard, according to the Fort Carson commander, Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, a man with a reputation for working to fix these problems at his post. “We are trying to say that it is a sign of strength and not weakness to come forward and get help.”

“What I tell the [officers and non-coms in combat units] is, ‘You are not medical professionals. You are not the people that can treat and diagnose this.’ So, [their job] is to be caring and compassionate for our soldiers and make sure they get the medical care they need.”

“I do think we are making some progress,” said Graham, describing the erasure of the stigma for seeking mental healthcare as a top priority. “It is certainly not fast enough for any of us … It takes time and it takes consistency from the entire Army.”

“Any death is regrettable,” said Col. Elspeth Ritchie, the Army’s top psychiatrist, in an interview. “And certainly suicide — which is something I’ve been looking into very closely — is extremely tragic for all concerned and we always go back and say, ‘How could this have been prevented? What could we have done better?'” Ritchie reels off a laundry list of initiatives for improving Army mental healthcare, like the establishment of a 24-7 hotline for soldiers to help arrange counseling and a new policy, started in the spring of 2008, to ensure that seeking mental healthcare won’t mess up a soldier’s security clearance. The Army’s most recent study of mental health issues in Iraq and Afghanistan showed improvements on decreasing stigma. “The trend is the direction we’d like it to go in,” said Ritchie.

 

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