PeaceOfMind.PrioritiesUSDepartmentOfDefenseGetsItRight History

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Priorities: US Department of Defense Gets It Right

by Patricia Obletz

Fall 2009

The US Department of Defense got it right when its military spending bill included mandatory confidential mental and emotional health screenings for combat soldiers going home, as well as protection for them against stigma. To accomplish the latter, soldiers have been given direct access to counseling services outside the military healthcare system — without primary care doctor referrals. The pervasive grip of stigma that is attached to these human conditions due to ignorance and arrogance is avoided when people in crisis don’t have to fear rejection by potential and actual employers, family and friends.

The bipartisan passage of the US Department of Defense military spending bill for fiscal year 2010 was signed into law by US President Barack Hussein Obama on October 28, 2009.

What shot mental health to priority status in the military was the “frightening” rise of suicide among combat troops. Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli this fall said that, although the number of suicides has been tapering off in the last few months, 2009 will still end with a significant increase in suicides over the alarming number of 2008 deaths by suicide.

Chiarelli credited the slowdown in soldier suicides to the Army plan initiated last February to educate soldiers and leaders on mental and emotional health issues, and to assess them for possible symptoms of an undiagnosed brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder, poor diet and sleep habits, and substance abuse. In October, the Army implemented the “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness” program. It tests mental and emotional strengths as strenuously as it tests physical strengths. Basic training now also includes programs that reduce stress. Gen. Chiarelli said that this was “The biggest step . . . taken to enhance wellness in the entire force through prevention rather than treatment.”

“Frightening” rise in civilian as well as military suicides.
Combat zones aren’t just for the military. Suicides have doubled among civilians since financial ruin exploded around the world about a year ago (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). Cruelty, greed and ignorance seed traumatic experiences whether you have money or don’t, whether you belong to a minority group or don’t. Every child and adult who is jeopardized by his or her environment at home, at school, at work, in the streets, is in need of mental and emotional check-ups no less than they need physical check-ups.

That’s why we also need a law for civilians that will mandate mental and emotional health screenings, no less a priority than physical strength screenings, and that will protect civilians against stigma for as long as ignorance and arrogance rule.

Given that prevention is cost effective, how can we afford to not implement mental and emotional health education and stress reducing programs at schools and at work, following in the Army’s footsteps? In most cases, mental and emotional wellness can be learned when given the right teacher, and sometimes the right medication. And when basic needs are met.

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on November 26, 2009, at 09:24 PM

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