New guidelines allow troops who've recovered from traumatic stress disorders to redeploy
WASHINGTON — Troops with bipolar and psychotic disorders cannot deploy into Iraq or Afghanistan but those recovering from traumatic stress disorders still can, under new defense guidelines released this week.
Defense health officials said the new guidance is designed to clarify existing policy, not to replace any current practices dealing with deploying servicemembers with mental health issues.
“What we found was that [health officials] had some questions about exactly what the regulations were,” said Terry Jones, spokesman for Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “These are much more specific guidelines to help them evaluate troops.”
The new policy guidance states that any condition that “limits the physical or psychological ability of a servicemember” must be evaluated before troops are sent downrange, since it could hurt both them and the mission.
It specifically states that troops with psychotic or bipolar disorders, and those taking anti-psychotic or anti-convulsant drugs, should not be deployed. Troops who suffer from any mental disorder for more than a year should also be considered “unsuitable” for military duty.
But servicemembers with “a psychiatric disorder in remission, or whose residual symptoms do not impair duty performance” may be considered for duty downrange. It lists post-traumatic stress disorder as a “treatable” problem.
That decision is left to mental health professionals, under the guidelines. If troops do not improve after three months of therapy and medication, the guidance prohibits their deployment.
Jones said officials do not expect the new guidelines to significantly change the practices of mental health evaluators or the numbers of troops being deployed.
Earlier this month, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Kit Bond, R-Mo., sent a letter to Winkenwerder blasting reports that soldiers stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., were discouraged from seeking treatment for PTSD.
The senators asked the Pentagon to investigate whether mental health officials were denied access to soldiers or pressured into approving their deployment. They also noted the stigma still associated with PTSD “must be changed if we hope to ensure the mental health of our country’s brave servicemembers.”
Defense officials are still investigating the Fort Carson case.
In a statement, Winkenwerder said the new guidelines will help military doctors “make the best possible decisions regarding the deployment of service members,” noting that the document was co-authored by a number of mental health officials.