After Fort Hood

davidshern Health Guide
  • After Fort Hood

    By David Shern, Ph.D., president and CEO, Mental Health America


    The tragedy at Fort Hood is focusing greater attention on the military mental health system and the stresses experienced by troops, their families and professionals.


    A major study conducted last year found that nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan - 300,000 in all - report symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression. Recent research also shows that there is a strong association between having more than one deployment and PTSD. These invisible wounds of war are common and extremely disabling without proper treatment.

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    Unfortunately, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently acknowledged, many service members do not seek treatment because they fear it will harm their careers. But even among those who do seek help for PTSD or major depression, surveys show only about half receive treatment that researchers consider "minimally adequate" for their illnesses.

    The problems our veterans experience also affect their families. Many vets cite "connecting emotionally with family" as a major concern. The percentage of soldiers who have conflicts with family and others quadrupled after returning from combat. In addition, their children have more behavioral problems than do those of veterans without PTSD Living and caring for veterans with mental health concerns is also stressful and can change the way families relate to each other. This is particularly important because families play a central role in supporting people with PTSD.


    The government is moving to address and remove barriers. The military and veterans medical systems are full of people dedicated to helping soldiers and veterans. But those systems are overwhelmed by demand that continues to grow. The Army has only 408 psychiatrists serving about 553,000 active-duty troops around the world. As a result, some soldiers say they have waited almost a year to see a psychiatrist.


    Many mental health professionals say they have crushing schedules, seeing 10 or more patients a day. And they have been marred by troubling failures, as when, in 2008, a senior VA administrator was found to have encouraged clinicians to try to limit the number of PTSD diagnoses.


    This shows we have a long way to go in ensuring that soldiers and their families get all the help and support they need. As we search for answers to the Fort Hood tragedy, Mental Health America recognizes that we have to move on all fronts to provide resources and assistance to veterans, our troops, their families, and caregivers.


    Through our Operation Healthy Reunions we are providing veterans and military families with resources so they receive the attention, help and care they deserve.


    We also recognize the Fort Hood tragedy deeply affects many Americans. Guidelines that we have developed ( can help in responding and coping with tragic events.


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    Many of our affiliates also offer important services and programs. And we are partnering with organizations that offer free counseling, such as Give an Hour, and just recently worked with Prescription Audio to make its sound therapy treatment for PTSD available for free as a download to our troops, veterans, their families, and caregivers.


    Let us continue to strive to give those who have borne the battle and their loved ones the care and services they deserve.


Published On: November 20, 2009