Caregivers emphasize: No stigma in getting post-combat stress help
October 30, 2007
CAMP CASEY, South Korea — A perception that seeking help for post-combat stress could harm a servicemember’s career is preventing many from dealing with problems that could balloon into greater ones.
But care providers throughout the Pacific say that seeking treatment alone will not jeopardize a security clearance — and therefore military jobs.
Most say they can keep treatment confidential and out of service records, with exceptions possible when serious harm to self or others is involved.
Capt. Christopher Perry, Area I support psychiatrist at Camp Casey, South Korea, has managed medications and conducted psychotherapy for several hundred returning vets.
Senior NCOs and junior officers do perceive a stigma with getting treatment, he said. But that stigma doesn’t exist, Perry said: “You don’t lose your clearance because of seeking help [for combat-related stress].”
Most of the time, no one even knows when a servicemember is seeking treatment, he said.
Perry says he has treated soldiers as high ranking as colonels for post-combat stress, though that’s all too rare, he said.
“When leaders are seen seeking care, soldiers will do it, too,” Perry said.
On Okinawa, U.S. Marine Camp Foster’s Counseling and Advocacy Program keeps treatments confidential and shreds its files every few years, said counseling and prevention supervisor Shane Arnett.
However, sessions would not remain confidential if a patient were suicidal or threatening harm to others, Arnett said. That holds true for all branches, health care providers said.
Diagnosis of clinical post-traumatic stress disorder won’t jeopardize an airman’s career, said Capt. Colin Burchfield, a psychologist at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
However, PTSD sometimes is coupled with substance abuse, which can be reported and result in a revoked security clearance.
“The Army believes it is so closely tied with readiness that they must know,” Perry said.
He conceded it’s an incentive for soldiers to hide an alcohol or drug problem. “But they all get caught eventually … and treatment may help get [security clearances] back,” Perry said.
About 70 percent of soldiers who seek substance abuse help at Camp Casey are forced to do so, said Wayne Johnson, Area I alcohol and drug control officer.
“Most people aren’t going to get help until they’re told to get help,” Johnson said.
Johnson says that when a servicemember comes to them voluntarily, they’re willing to speak with commanders on the soldier’s behalf about the circumstances. It can be a first step toward reclaiming a clearance, he said.
Chaplains may have the most discretion of all when it comes to confidentiality.
On Oct. 10, Chief of Chaplains Maj. Gen. Douglas L. Carver officially stated a long-held belief: that chaplains can guarantee confidentiality.
Chaplains will intervene to prevent physical harm but can keep otherwise reportable information secret if said in a posture of penitence, said Maj. Leo Mora, a family life chaplain at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.
“It puts more responsibility on us, but it will definitely help offset that stigma,” Mora said. “We can protect people from any stigma associated with PTSD, or from having information put into a record. The unit chaplain can in turn refer those soldiers to sources of choice and decide how to go about fixing the damage.”
Staff writers Cindy Fisher and Jennifer Svan contributed to this report.
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