Is Change Starting?

November 8, 2008 at 3:35 pm | Posted in Challenges, Deployment, Mental Health, Military | 3 Comments

No, this is not a political post even though I did use one of the “buzz words” from the recent campaign cycle.  This post is actually about attitudes toward mental health problems and treatment within the military.  I’ve written before about some of the policy changes made by the Department of Defense and new programs under development in an attempt to reduce the stigma of mental health care within the military.

I haven’t noticed much in the news about DOD efforts to reduce the stigma of mental health care in the months since those posts and had started to wonder if the efforts were real or if the statements were for show.  This morning I read an article about Army Major General David Blackledge who served two tours in Iraq commanding Civil Affairs Units and now works at the Pentagon.  As we’ve come to see in Iraq and Afghanistan, the demarcations between the front-line/ “at risk” troops and those in relative safety are much more ambiguous than in previous wars.  IEDs, rocket and mortar attacks are equal opportunity hazards.

Maj Gen Blackledge was treated for symptoms of posttraumatic stress following an incident during his first deployment when he was injured and his interpreter killed following a convoy ambush.  He was again injured during his second tour and experienced symptoms again.  While I haven’t located a biography online, I did find this announcement of his promotion from Colonel to Brigadier General in 2003, so it would appear that Maj General Blackledge has continued to advance in the ranks since receiving treatment for his symptoms.  This is particularly important given that one of the top five barriers to care identified by OIF/OEF veterans is “It could harm my career” (endorsed by 44% of the respondents to the RAND survey).

In the article I read today, Maj Gen Blackledge is quoted as saying:

“It’s part of our profession … nobody wants to admit that they’ve got a weakness in this area,” Blackledge said of mental health problems among troops returning from America’s two wars.

“I have dealt with it. I’m dealing with it now,” said Blackledge, who came home with post-traumatic stress. “We need to be able to talk about it.”

I’m glad to see that he is speaking out and that active duty servicemembers are being given examples of leaders who have sought help, continued to advance in their careers, and are comfortable “going public” with their story.  I do believe this needs to be expanded though- including both NCOs and officers from different branches of the service with different deployment experiences.  In my research for this post, I discovered that this article with Maj Gen Blackledge going public may be just the start of a new DOD initiative to reduce the stigma of mental health care.  It looks like it has taken this long for stories to start hitting the internet and airwaves because DOD has been working on establishing a comprehensive effort.  I found some interesting information about it online and will post about it in the next few days.

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3 Comments »

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  1. They ought to just make it mandatory. I see too many kids who come to school and have suffered the ill effects of their parent’s deployment and resulting stress/trauma/injuries etc.

  2. Mandatory counseling isn’t the answer either. It doesn’t work if the patient isn’t an open and active participant. People have to *want* to attend.

  3. But if they were to make it mandatory, then there wouldn’t be a stigma attached to it, and what went on behind closed doors would stay there, and no one would be any wiser. They’d all show up, do their time, and hopefully those that knew that they needed it and couldn’t face admitting it would benefit. Those that were closed to it, could remain closed, bit it wouldn’t kill them to go even if they sat there for an hour and said/did nothing.


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