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WASHINGTON — Health experts want more master sergeants to admit that sometimes they get rattled, too.

In testimony before Congress on Thursday, defense medical officials said most troops will continue to see mental health problems including traumatic stress disorders and depression as an unfavorable mark on their records until they see their leaders dealing with those same issues and treating them like any other injury.

“We don’t fault people who break their legs. We don’t fault people who get cancer,” said Vice Adm. Donald Arthur, surgeon general of the Navy. “But we tend to blame people who get post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s not your fault if you get cancer, and it’s not your fault if you are affected by post-traumatic stress from having been in combat,” he said

Arthur told members of the House Armed Services Committee that despite years of emphasis from military leaders and health experts the stigma of mental issues still persists among troops, in part because of the “hardened” military stereotype many young troops believe they have to live up to.

“But if a lieutenant colonel or a sergeant major gets up after (an attack) and says, ‘I’ve never been so scared,’ others under them are going to talk about it, too,” he said.

The comments came during a subcommittee review of the recently released report by the department’s mental health task force, co-chaired by Arthur.

Combating the stigma of psychological treatment was one of the task force’s main long-term goals, along with boosting funding and personnel to treat mental health issues.

Dr. Ward Casscells, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, said department officials are planning another summit on mental health in August and will provide guidelines to military leaders in September on how to implementing the task force’s 99 recommendations to improve its health system.

Dr. Shelly MacDermid, co-chair of the task force and director of the Military Family Research Institute, said convincing military leaders to drop their preconceptions about mental health treatment will require more training at every level.

“We need to be marking this on the fitness reports the same way we treat someone who broke their leg,” she said. “It’s an illness that can be treated.”


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