Tuesday, June 19, 2007

VA Mental Health Overhaul Sought

Congress and the White House are pushing for reforms in the Veteran's Administration and other military hospitals to overhaul the mental health care provided to people serving in the military -- particularly those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan -- and those who have already served.

Today's Washington Post states:

Over the past two days, The Post has published stories detailing the bureaucratic and health difficulties of troops returning home with PTSD.
...
The Army is hiring 200 more psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers to help soldiers with mental-health problems, and next month it will launch an educational program on stress for all soldiers and commanders, said Maj. Gen. Gale S. Pollock, the acting surgeon general of the Army.

The Army is also expanding a pilot program at Fort Bragg to offer behavioral-health treatment at primary-care facilities to reduce the stigma for soldiers seeking care, Pollock said.

"The tragic cases of combat stress discussed in the Washington Post June 17-18 are powerful and concerning to the U.S. Army," Pollock said in a statement. She emphasized that the Army is continuing to address the problems of soldiers with PTSD, including placing hundreds of mental-health specialists on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan to counsel soldiers with combat stress.

Pollock cited efforts such as post-deployment health assessments, begun in 1998. Based on a 2004 study by Walter Reed researchers, the Army added a second screening for soldiers a few months after their return to catch problems that are not quickly apparent, such as PTSD.
...
Cruz, who helped capture Saddam Hussein, has been plagued by anxiety and nightmarish images of dead Iraqi children since returning home. Yet VA has denied his claim for compensation, ruling that his psychological problems existed before he joined the Army and that he had not proved that he saw combat.
The Washington Post has set up a special online area for this topic, "Walter Reed and Beyond," here.