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Kerry Says Pentagon Report on Mental Illness Among Troops is a Wakeup Call

by Pamela Leavey

The WaPo reported on the newly released Pentagon report that shows that “U.S. troops returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer “daunting and growing” psychological problems — with nearly 40 percent of soldiers, a third of Marines and half of the National Guard members reporting symptoms.” The Pentagon task force also reported yesterday that “the military’s cadre of mental-health workers is “woefully inadequate” to meet their needs.”

The congressionally mandated task force called for urgent and sweeping changes to a peacetime military mental health system strained by today’s wars, finding that hundreds of thousands of the more than 1 million U.S. troops who have served at least one war-zone tour in Iraq or Afghanistan are showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety or other potentially disabling mental disorders.

“Not since Vietnam have we seen this level of combat,” said Vice Adm. Donald Arthur, co-chairman of the Department of Defense Mental Health Task Force. “With this increase in . . . psychological need, we now find that we have not enough providers in our system,” he said at a Pentagon news conference yesterday unveiling the report. “Clearly, we have a deficit in our availability of mental-health providers.”

Adding insult to injury, the report said, is the fact that “the ongoing “surge” of more than 30,000 additional U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will exacerbate this gap, as will the rapid growth in the number of soldiers, Marines and other troops — now about half a million — who have served more than one combat tour, heightening the risk of mental illnesses.”

As in the aftermath of Vietnam, the costs of untreated mental illness will rise dramatically over time, the report warned. “Our nation learned this lesson, at a tragic cost,” it said. “The time for action is now.”

Senator John Kerry issued the following statement yesterday, after the Department of Defense released the new Pentagon report on the mental health of the military:

“The fact that 38 percent of the men and women returning from Iraq show signs of psychological symptoms should be a red flashing light that we need to do more to help these men and women,” Senator Kerry said. “As we saw with the neglect at Walter Reed, it’s the lack of proactive initiative by this administration that brought us here. Many of these soldiers have already had their jobs or families disrupted by deployment, and this report shows us that thousands may also be suffering in silence because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Our troops give our country their brave service, and we owe them the very best care when they come home – including healing all the wounds of war – even those that might not be visible. I intend to work closely with my colleagues to address the recommendations in this report and to pressure the White House to make sure that we have sufficient funds to care for any of the soldiers who need our help.”

Among the key findings of the report:

* Mental health care stigma remains pervasive and is a significant barrier to care.

*Mental health professionals are not sufficiently accessible to service members and their families.

* There are significant gaps in the continuum of care for psychological health.

*The military system does not have enough resources, funding or personnel to adequately support the psychological health of service members and their families in peace and during conflict.

Earlier in the week, it was reported in the news that male U.S. veterans are more likely to commit suicide:

Male U.S. military veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as men who haven’t served in the armed forces, a new study claims.

These findings suggest that doctors should look for signs of suicidal intentions among soldiers returning from service in Afghanistan and Iraq, the researchers said.

Suicide is the great un-answered question. I’ve lost two people very dear to me to suicide in the past. We must do more to help our returning veterans from this ill-gotten war.

4 Responses to “Kerry Says Pentagon Report on Mental Illness Among Troops is a Wakeup Call”

  1. As a proud Desert Storm Veteran I am deeply saddened by this report. This is just one of a thousand reasons why JK should be our current and next Commander and Chief. No one understands what our soldiers are going through more then JK. Please keep the fight up sir!!

  2. Here again I have to ask, who could believe that John Kerry would tell a joke that in any way degraded or ridiculed the troops?

    Hillary would be on the top of that list.

    Those of us who have worked with vets in health care knew DG&W these troops would need psych care that was already strained by those from previous wars. The rate of PTSD in the Iraq vets hit Vietnam levels early on.

    Like Kerry says, the lack of proactive initiative by this administration is nothing new. Some of us would suggest that it is also willful. How can you be that incompetent without having a clue.

    These are the people who sent these soldiers over there without enough body or vehicle armor, didn’t secure the known storage sites of conventional explosives, and couldn’t be bothered really trying diplomacy.

    May the results go down as a history lesson that everyone remembers.

  3. Ginny, The folks that need to learn this lesson are immune to noticing the problem, and those who can learn have mostly had enough reminders for this lifetime. For guys like the neo cons our military resembles nothing so much as the pieces on a game board, and its elements are to be employed with no more consideration. If there’s even humans involved at all, that realization would only get in the way of accomplishing the objective. People should know very well that “leaders” like this are not fit to entrust our country to, but I’m not sure what it will take to have the message finally sink in.

    Humans normally have a hard time killing other people, and, once forced into the need to do so, have a hard time getting back to normal. And some have a harder time than others. When they kill on our behalf, we were the ones that have exposed them to the insanity of war. That is a debt that we are all supposed to take personally. We have to pay it collectively to do any justice to those we owe, and we have to make sure that we keep our government in the hands of people who understand the consequences of their decisions.

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