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Army secretary calls for mental health 'resilience' training

February 04, 2013|By Kim Murphy
  • U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh talks to reporters at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington state.
U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh talks to reporters at Joint Base Lewis McChord… (Ted S. Warren / Associated…)

JOINT BASE LEWIS McCHORD, Wash. — With suicides in the Army reaching another record in 2012, Army Secretary John McHugh said Monday he is reviewing recommendations from a study of soldier behavioral health evaluations and intends to adopt mental health “resilience” training for all soldiers.

McHugh said he was not ready to announce the results of the behavioral health review — launched after several troubled soldiers at the Madigan Army Medical Center here complained that their post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses were downgraded by a forensic psychiatric team. The Army continues to hold close to the vest what it found when it looked across the country at how soldiers with mental health problems were being diagnosed.

“A few things are already clear,” McHugh said at a briefing to announce the “completion” of the report.

“Our commanders are working very, very hard. They’re trying to do everything they possibly can to provide to our soldiers the right programs, the right care.” But the “abundance” of programs made available over the past decade has led in some cases to “confusion” about what services are available, especially when good programs are “stovepiped” in individual locales and not telegraphed to all bases and commands, he said. 

“Often commanders and those charged with delivering care are unaware of certain benefits and opportunities that are are available. Other times, they are aware of them but not sure how to apply them … interventions are often not coming as early as we would like to see them,” the secretary said.

As a first step, McHugh said he has ordered his top staff to develop a Ready and Resilient campaign to integrate and synchronize programs aimed at combat readiness and resilience for active duty soldiers and reserve and National Guard forces, as well as civilian employees and family members.

The goal, he said, is to develop a coherent and collaborative network of programs to “increase individual and unit readiness and resilience … which ultimately prepares them to deal with the rigors and challenges of a demanding profession.”

Forces at Joint Base Lewis McChord and elsewhere already have been undergoing training under a program designed to teach mental health coping skills and build the attributes that psychologists say enable soldiers to better withstand the traumas of conflict and the difficulties of family separations and financial hardship.

The 325 confirmed or potential suicides reported by the Army last week for 2012 were a record in what has been a decade of records, in which suicides, up 54% since 2007, now surpass combat deaths.

“All of us in the Army are deeply concerned about this. I take the time to send a letter of condolence to every survivor, no matter how a soldier dies, and it’s chilling to me to see the growing number of letters I have to sign as a result of a soldier taking his or her own life,” McHugh said.

“We are working collaboratively to try to find answers, but as you find in the civilian sector, there’s no simple way by which you can approach this.” 

One of the most important things, he said, was the campaign to eliminate any stigma or negative career ramifications attached to seeking counseling and encouraging soldiers to recognize and act on signs of trouble among their colleagues.

“One of the most important things that could happen doesn’t happen because an Army secretary signs a directive.… It’s soldiers looking after other soldiers,” he said. “We’re trying to give them tools of things to look for, so a friend can just put their arm around another soldier and say, ‘Come on, let’s get some help.’ In my judgment, there’s no better program than that.”

kim.murphy@latimes.com 

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