Ovi -
we cover every issue
Apopseis magazine  
Ovi Bookshop - Free Ebook
Tony Zuvela - Cartoons, Illustrations
Ovi Language
Michael R. Czinkota: As I See It...
WordsPlease - Inspiring the young to learn
Tony Zuvela - Cartoons, Illustrations
Stop human trafficking
BBC News :   - 
iBite :   - 
Battling combat stress
by John Pederson
Issue 4
Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author
DeliciousRedditFacebookDigg! StumbleUpon
Soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom know how to make difficult decisions. Whether it’s calling for backup or choosing to push ahead, these troops make life-altering judgments on a daily basis, but many soldiers face the most difficult choice of their military career far away from the battlefield.

These troops must decide whether to pursue treatment for psychological trauma or remain undiagnosed. Many feel the military’s ‘medical hold’ policy makes this choice particularly difficult for returning soldiers. “Soldiers are being punished,” says Eric Gustuvson, the Director of the Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), “The first thing they want to do when they get home is reconnect with family and friends. But if they admit they’re having problems, they can be flagged as a ‘medical hold’ and will be unable to go on leave.”

‘Medical hold’ patients must remain at a military hospital or in special barracks while receiving treatment and waiting for a medical board to determine their status, a process that takes several months in some cases, according to Veterans Affairs Executive Anthony Hardie.

Most soldiers keep this in mind as they go through the medical screening process at the end of their tour, according to one Iraqi Veteran, “You have the opportunity to talk to someone about your problems,” said the 22-year old reserve solider, “But there’s the feeling you just want to get out of there. If you do say anything, you might have to stay for a month.”

Not all psychological cases receive ‘medical hold’ status. The military can release soldiers on ‘Temporary Disability or Retirement Leave’ (TDRL) to receive care at a Veterans Hospital near their home. However, neither option presents a smooth transition back to civilian life, since TDRL patients also face a cumbersome discharge process.

“Either way, you’re in limbo,” Hardie said. “You’re not fit to go back on duty, but you’re also not discharged from the military, so it’s pretty difficult getting your life back together.”

Most soldiers decide to forgo the whole affair by concealing their symptoms. One in seven returning soldiers suffers from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other serious mental health issues, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, but only one quarter of this group seeks treatment.

According to Gustuvson, the number of undiagnosed cases will increase as soldiers serve longer terms of duty fighting urban warfare in Iraq. “There is no frontline in this war, every time you step out there you feel like there’s a target on your back. This sort of stress over a prolonged period of time can lead to a variety health problems.”

This issue does not just affect individual soldiers. Before the end of the war, more than 800,000 Iraqi Vets will complete the medical screening process. Gustuvson fears the social implications of thousands of undiagnosed soldiers, “The worse thing is to have undiagnosed mental problems; it leads to increased rates of homelessness, unemployment and suicide.”

The military is taking steps to prevent these issues. All returning soldiers must see a military doctor and complete a written questionnaire to identify health problems. The form asks specific questions about psychological stress. One question reads: Are you currently interested in receiving help for a stress, emotional, alcohol, or family problem? This is a significant step considering the military’s record on psychological treatment.

The armed forces first recognized its responsibility to monitor mental health before, during and after combat in 1997 with the ratification of Public Law 105-85, although, according to Hardie, “There’s still a huge stigma against psychological disorders in the military that keeps soldiers from seeking the care they need.”

Hardie fought this stigma by preparing the Veterans Enhanced Transition Services Act of 2004 with Senator Russ Feingold, requiring military officials to provide more information and psychological counseling services to all soldiers - the Bill is currently in committee.

Whether returning soldiers will take advantage of these benefits remains uncertain, legislators have done little to address the influence of the ‘medical hold’ policy during the screening process. Last year, the Pentagon investigated the conditions at one ‘holding facility’ at Fort Stewart, Georgia, but policymakers did not discuss the facility’s impact on a soldier’s decision to seek treatment in the first place.

It’s not just the government and the military ignoring this issue. According to Gustuvson, the media shares the responsibility, “You only hear about the worst case scenarios while thousands of people go undiagnosed,” Gustuvson said.

Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author

Get it off your chest
 (comments policy)

© Copyright CHAMELEON PROJECT Tmi 2005-2008  -  Sitemap  -  Add to favourites  -  Link to Ovi
Privacy Policy  -  Contact  -  RSS Feeds  -  Search  -  Submissions  -  Subscribe  -  About Ovi