Pentagon Official Urges Improvements In Mental Health Care
Testifying on Thursday before the House Armed ServicesMilitary Personnel Subcommittee, S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretaryof defense for health affairs, called for improved mental healthassessments, stronger privacy protections and a "buddy system" to helpreduce the stigma among service members about seeking mental healthcare services, the AP/Washington Postreports. Approximately 38% of soldiers, 31% of Marines and 49% ofNational Guard members returning from combat abroad reportpsychological conditions such as brain injury and post-traumatic stressdisorder.
Casscells testified that a plan introduced by ArmySurgeon General Gail Pollock to hire 25% more mental health specialistscould be difficult to accomplish because of problems with recruitingand retaining active-duty specialists. "We cannot hire 200 Armypsychiatrists, which Gen. Pollock wants to do; we can't do thatovernight," Casscells said, adding, "So we need everyone to reach outand look out for service members."
A task force chaired byU.S. Navy Surgeon General Donald Arthur last month submitted 95recommendations to the Pentagon and Congress concerning mental healthdisorders in U.S. troops. Defense Secretary Robert Gates last monthpromised to address problems and asked that a corrective plan befinalized by mid-September. He also expressed his support foreliminating the practice of asking troops about prior mental healthtreatment when they apply for security clearance.
Casscells onThursday said his team is reviewing recommendations and developingpolicy proposals for Gates to review. A presidential commission chairedby former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and former HHSSecretary Donna Shalala is scheduled to release its findings andrecommendations for improving health care for soldiers on July 25. TheHouse and Senate also are considering a variety of legislative measuresto improve military and veterans' health care (Yen, AP/Washington Post, 7/12).
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