ARLINGTON, Va. — Navy mental health care professionals need to spend time with the grunts instead of just waiting for patients in their offices, experts said Tuesday.

Lt. Cmdr. Wayne Boucher, a psychologist who was attached to Regimental Combat Team 7 in Iraq, warned that if mental health professionals wait until someone is medically evacuated to them, “You’ve made a psychological cripple out of that person.”

Boucher was one of several speakers at this year’s Marine Corps Combat/Operational Stress Conference outside Washington D.C. He and other panelists talked about lessons learned on combating stress for Marines and sailors in theater.

Lt. Cmdr. James West, a psychiatrist who was assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5 in Iraq, talked about the need for mental health personnel to get onto the forward operating bases so they can experience for themselves what Marines are going through.

West said Marines form a closed society, and it was quickly apparent to him that anyone who does not show an interest in what it means to be a Marine infantryman would be marginalized.

He stressed the need of establishing a relationship with both the troops in the field and commanders. After he arrived in Iraq, he talked to leaders at the battalion level and then went out to the bases, he said.

Once he got back to his office, he found that more Marines would drop by because he knew what conditions they faced, he said.

“It gave them a sense that I was in it with them,” West said.

Making the trips to see the Marines also allowed West to give feedback on what Marines were going through to commanders, he said.

Boucher pointed out that getting onto the forward operating bases can take some time. Still, he made an effort to get out with the Marines every time he heard about an incident in which U.S. troops were killed.

Speakers at Wednesday’s panel said the main focus of managing combat stress is determining how well U.S. troops are able to function.

Boucher stressed the need to keep troops in the fight, even if they have suffered traumatic experiences, because “the people with PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] have critical knowledge that is going to keep people alive.”

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