Army needs to address PTS, TBIs

| October 22, 2010 | 0 Comments

Heather Graham-Ashley
Fort Hood & III Corps Public Affairs

FORT HOOD, Texas — The Army needs a significant cultural change so that Soldiers who need behavioral health services and treatment will seek care, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli told Fort Hood’s Health Promotion Council at III Corps, recently.

Wendy Lakso, III Corps and Fort Hood health promotion officer, said the council, an asset of Army Public Health, integrates medical, tactical and garrison assets on the installation to address public and behavioral health concerns.

Behavioral health is at the forefront of Chiarelli’s mind these days. The toll of nearly nine years at war is manifesting in a number of ways on Soldiers and their families. 

The Army is seeing an increase in behavioral health issues such as depression and anxiety and, in extreme cases, high-risk deaths, suicide attempts and suicides, Chiarelli said. 

Traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress are the “signature wounds of this war,” added the vice chief.

Soldiers with TBI and PTS are becoming more prevalent as the war continues. More than 60,000 TBIs have been diagnosed since 2003, Chiarelli said. The Army Wounded Warrior Program has 7,556 Soldiers enrolled. Of those, 62 percent are suffering from PTS or TBI.

More than 216,000 active duty Soldiers received outpatient behavioral health treatment in fiscal year 2009. Chiarelli said he is happy about that. In fact, he would like to see the number rise, because it will mean that Soldiers are seeking and receiving the help they need.

Not a disorder
Chiarelli believes post-traumatic stress is a chemical injury, not a disorder. He does not like the stigma often associated with PTS as a disorder. Some people view PTS as a weakness or a sign of weakness in a person.

“PTS is real; it is an injury,” Chiarelli said. “It should be treated as an injury.”

The first step, he said, is in helping to eliminate the stigmas that surround behavioral health and treatment. Soldiers suffering from TBI and PTS require treatment focused toward their injuries, he explained, the same way Soldiers with physical injuries receive care.

“No one is complaining about the way we are treating Soldiers who lose arms or legs,” Chiarelli observed.

Brain injuries are different from physical ones, he said, and brain science is more complicated than mending a wounded limb.

Soldiers with brain injuries can be prone to high-risk behaviors and activities, he said, either because of their injuries or out of frustration with their symptoms.

Chiarelli wants TBI and PTS to be treated as medical conditions caused by injuries. He wants Soldiers to get the help and treatment they deserve.

“We have put many of these Soldiers in this position,” Chiarelli said. “We owe it to them to make them well.”

Cultural change
The Army needs a cultural change that encourages Soldiers at all levels to take advantage of behavioral health services, and to ask for help when they need it, Chiarelli said.

Helping those with TBI or PTS begins with changing how the Army looks at brain injuries and their effects.

The first step is in recognizing that TBI and PTS are injuries.

“We’ve got a cultural issue,” Chiarelli said. “We’ve got commanders today who believe Soldiers who get a concussion are not entitled to a Purple Heart.”

From receiving entitlements, to breaking the stigmas related to seeking help, the Army needs to change, the vice chief said.

“We’ve got to change the culture, so Soldiers seek help when they need it,” Chiarelli said.

The Army is working to start that change now. A new Army video features Medal of Honor recipients speaking about their own experiences, and encouraging Soldiers who need behavioral health services to ask for help. All of the Medal of Honor recipients in the video have either TBI or PTS.

The vice chief hopes that Soldiers hearing the seek-help message from America’s heroes will be encouraged to get the help they need.

Engaged leadership
Chiarelli said engagement by leaders, noncommissioned officers and Soldiers at all levels is vital.

“Keep an eye out for your buddies and Soldiers in the units,” the vice chief said.

That battle-buddy mentality, and the engagement at all levels seen during deployments, cannot stop when Soldiers leave the combat zone, he said.

“That same attention should apply in garrison,” he said. “We need to ensure all are aware of threats and resources.”

Chiarelli wants leaders to know their Soldiers, and recognize the signs of high-risk behaviors. Every commander needs to ensure that every unit is a supportive environment, one that encourages Soldiers at all levels to seek behavioral health treatment if they are in need of it. 

Category: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *