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Mental Health Services For American Indian Veterans

Armen Hareyan's picture

The Boston Globeon Monday examined efforts to target mental health services to AmericanIndian veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As of July,at least 18,000 of the 22,000 American Indians currently in themilitary have been deployed at least once to Iraq or Afghanistan,according to the Department of Defense.

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Recentstudies have found that nearly 30% of Army soldiers returning from Iraqsuffer from depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, the Globereports. No studies have been conducted among personnel in otherbranches of the military. In addition, the prevalence of illnessesamong American Indians returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has not beenstudied. Studies of American Indians returning from Vietnam showed thatthey were twice as likely as other veterans to experience PTSD. Mentalhealth workers suspect that current soldiers have similar levels ofstress.

In some parts of the U.S., the Department of Veterans Affairs has combinedtraditional healing methods with modern medicine to encourage AmericanIndians to seek medical help. Yet some American Indians do not trustthe federal government and the services it provides, resulting in suchefforts not reaching all American Indians, the Globe reports.

JayShore, a psychologist in Denver who works with American Indianveterans, said, "The (Indian) community's past dealings with federalagencies as a whole, some of these experiences may not have been verypositive. Historically ... the Indian vets may have good reason not tofeel very comfortable in the system." Mose Hearne -- a mental healthcounselor at the North American Indian Center of Boston, a Gulf Warveteran and a member of the Mohawk tribe -- suggested that VeteransAffairs should customize its services to the cultural needs of AmericanIndian veterans, adding that it could reach out to tribal leaders andmembers to help persuade veterans to accept help (Badkhen, Boston Globe, 9/17).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser WeeklyHealth Disparities Report,search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.