Army needs to focus on mental health

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November 16, 2009

11:38 PM

Fort Hood was the site of an American tragedy two weeks ago when an army psychiatrist killed 13 of his fellow soldiers. This was an unfortunate incident that showed us the horrific side of human nature. However, it also showed that soldiers, even those that are not in combat, deal with conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental issues.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by a traumatic event involving the threat of injury or death. It is easy to understand why our military servicemen and women suffer from this disorder after coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan. Since the United States has been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the suicide rates in the army have risen steadily, and in 2008, 140 soldiers committed suicide. This staggering statistic has become a lightning rod in the armed forces community, and General George Casey has raised concerns about the status of our armed forces.

In a recent interview with CNN, Casey said that he was concerned that our military was out of balance and the United States was unable to provide combat-ready troops for Iraq and Afghanistan. He explained that soldiers who spend one year in combat need about two years to return to normal civilian life. Casey summed up by asking if we are doing the right things to keep our uniformed men and women as safe as possible. This is an important question to ask, especially after the Fort Hood tragedy.

Currently, the military does not have enough resources to provide mental health care to soldiers returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan. There is a low number of psychiatrists available to help treat soldiers who have developed anxiety disorders upon returning to the United States. Simply put, this has to change. Our soldiers deserve the best health care after returning from such traumatic environments. This requires that a new focus be placed on the mental health of our soldiers in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical System.

Similarly, the psychiatrists who are not deployed but are responsible for helping returning soldiers assimilate back to normal life need to be monitored and their mental health checked. It is an extremely taxing job to listen to all the things that happen to soldiers while in combat, and it is foolish to think that psychiatrists are immune to the conditions of their patients. Hopefully, an increase in focus on the mental health of all involved with the armed forces will keep other tragedies from happening.

The United States military needs to refocus on the mental health of its soldiers and take better care of them. They are our veterans who fight for the freedoms that keep this country safe and allow people to live peacefully. Americans need to realize that our soldiers are fragile even after enduring the most rigorous conditions of combat. The Fort Hood tragedy should lead to an outpouring of support for our troops from citizens around the country.

We cannot let an event like this turn us away from our veterans and we must continue to support them and their families through this tough time. Combat places a traumatic burden on our soldiers’ shoulders, and the military and citizenry should do everything they can to help soldiers adjust back to civilian life and deal with the horrors of war.

E-mail Ben Arancibia at [email protected]

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