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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army was kicking off a 90-day program Wednesday to educate every soldier about the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injury.

Starting with senior leaders, all 1 million-plus members of the Army will receive a scripted briefing that includes a video, Power Point slides and a question-and-answer session on the two medical conditions, Lt. Gen. James Campbell, director of the Army staff, told reporters in a Pentagon briefing Tuesday.

The one-hour sessions will be taught in platoon-size groups of about 40 people, so soldiers can have “candid conversations,” Campbell said.

Army leaders have decided to make the effort because post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and mild traumatic brain injury — otherwise known as a concussion — “are real,” Campbell said. “By 18 October, the goal is for the information to reach every member of our Army, from four-star general to private,” he said.

“We are expecting an increase in referrals” as a result of the program, said Col. Elspeth Ritchie, director of Proponency of Behavioral Health Psychiatry Consultant to the U.S. Army Surgeon General.

In fact, she said, “We’re going to take it as a measure of success if we get an increase in referrals.”

The U.S. military’s medical system, Tricare, says patients who ask for PTSD evaluations should get them within 30 days — a standard that Tricare meets 96 percent of the time, Ritchie said.

“And if someone’s in crisis, they’ll be seen right away,” Ritchie said.”

However, she said, “I do think if someone wants to see somebody … and screws up their courage” to ask for an appointment, only to be told “come back in three weeks,” that can have a discouraging effect on the person.

To help solve the problem, the Army is working to hire 270 additional mental health specialists, she said.

It is challenging to entice these highly sought-after professionals to join the Army’s fold, particularly in some regions of the country, Ritchie said.

“I’m not sure if we’re going to get that” number, she said.

But no one who feels they need to be seen should hesitate to step forward, Ritchie said.

“We’re doing our darn best to accommodate them,” Ritchie said.

The Army has also set up a hot line for both soldiers and families with questions or concerns about health, including PTSD and traumatic brain injuries: Wounded Soldiers and Family Hotline, 800-984-852; overseas DSN, 312-328-0002; or e-mail, wsfsupport@conus.army.mil.


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