The Army is overhauling mental health services after years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, aiming to end an era of experimentation in which nearly 200 programs were tried on different bases.
At Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and elsewhere, the Army has pushed counseling teams out of hospitals to embed with troops. It’s also cutting back the use of private psychiatric hospitals while expanding intensive mental health programs at military facilities like Madigan Army Medical Center.
The reforms come at a time when the Army, despite a dramatic reduction in troops headed to a war zone, still faces serious challenges trying to reach and treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions
This strikes me at first blush as a pretty good idea.
Currently, when a soldier is referred for mental health care, they report to the centralized office on post, either at the base hospital or Troop Medical Clinic.
Under the new program at Lewis, each BCT will be supported by a dedicated team, co-located with them. It’s a lot easier, as the article notes, to walk across the parking lot than to have to go clear across post.
Also, having teams in direct support of specific units will likely increase continuity of care. Mental health professionals will also likely be better able to form an opinion on the environments in the units they support.
It should be noted that the MHTs will apparently not be under the command of the supported unit, but remain under their own chain of command.
This isn’t a panacea that will resolve all issues, but does seem like a good approach.
When we talk about mental health in the service, we really should distinguish a couple of different things. First, there is PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- that is, the challenges of war have a debilitating effect on many troops, and they need services to help bring them back to a fully functional state.
The other kind of mental health issue is this- simply serving in the Army can be hugely stressful and disorienting for many people. Remember, many young soldiers are away from family and lifelong friends for the first time, in a new environment, far away from home, and often for the very first time in their lives forced to meet demanding standards of performance, behavior and conduct, all while also simply being treated as an adult for the first time. Most troops handle that with aplomb. Some struggle with adapting to that environment.
At some point, many who cannot adapt are discharged as unsuitable for the military lifestyle. But given the costs associated with recruiting and training an otherwise qualified individual, many times, the costs and time needed to provide counseling and mental health care that can enable them to serve satisfactorily would be cheaper than discharging them and replacing them.