Policy on treating troops’ mental health proposed at conference
GARMISCH, Germany — A day earlier, Gen. John Craddock was visiting with soldiers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where the U.S. European Command leader also met with doctors who work with troops experiencing post-traumatic stress.
Craddock walked away from that session with some insight into a troubling new trend: soldiers start experiencing mental health emergencies within weeks of deploying downrange, even though it might be their second or third deployment. Then, these war-tested soldiers need to be evacuated to hospitals like Landstuhl.
"We are now experiencing a new phenomena," Craddock told those attending the U.S. European Command’s Quality of Life Conference on Thursday. "We have to get a grip on this."
Treatment of wounded warriors was one of the issues at the top of this year’s conference agenda, held at the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort.
The weeklong conference, which was comprised of 64 delegates divided into several working groups, serves as a forum for exploring a host of issues impacting soldiers and families. By week’s end, specific problem areas were identified, with participants offering a series of recommendations on how to make improvements. The problems are then worked on by senior EUCOM staff during the course of the year.
Regarding post-traumatic stress and troops in need of mental health support, there is one major obstacle that stands in the way of treatment, according to a focus group of servicemembers working on "Wounded Warrior" matters.
New measures are needed to overcome the real or percieved stigma of seeking mental help, and to make sure troops are getting the care they need, said Army 1st Sgt. Ted Munter, a spokesman for the focus group.
The recommendation: EUCOM should establish a Mental Health Bill of Rights, which would include a command policy letter, make mental health awareness part of the EUCOM training inventory, and require leaders to consult with health care providers before determining what kind of personnel action could be needed.
"The scope of the problem is EUCOM-wide," said Munter.
Also, a standardized long-term (12-18 month) post-reintegration program for servicemembers would help ensure solders don’t fall through the cracks when they leave the unit, according to the focus group.
Craddock concurred that steps must be taken.
"We cannot let this continue — the stigma associated with it," Craddock said.
Mental health, however, was just one of the concerns dealt with during the conference.
This year, one issue in particular took senior leaders by surprise.
A focus group dealing with family and force deployment issues pointed out that all too often military personnel deploying in smaller units to support forces already operating downrange are not being sent with proper equipment and training.
In some cases, soldiers have been in the position of training Iraqis on how to drive a tank without receiving such training themselves. Others have deployed without being issued a weapon.
"We ask that checks and balances are established," said Turaeza Hose, a spokeswoman for the deployment focus group.
Leaders said the issue would be taken up immediately.
"We all kind of said, "Wow,’  " Craddock told the crowd following the presentation. "We’ll have to get into that fast."
Other quality-of-life issues and recommendations from the conference:
Single soldiers want their meal cards for the dining facilities to be made flexible and valid at other base eateries and commissaries. The reason: work hours and DFAC hours are too limited.Create a standardized sponsorship program to avoid inconsistencies across the theater, which will help prevent situations in which personnel are not properly integrated into communities.Expand awareness of under-utilized family deployment support programs with a professional marketing plan. Often, families are unaware of initiatives in place to help families cope during deployments.A teen focus group proposed expanding the number of annual round-trip commercial flights for stateside college students from one to two, arguing that Space A is unreliable for students on break and that paying for additional trips is a financial hardship.Craddock, who will be testifying in Washington later this month, said he intends to put the concerns of families on the congressional record.
"Your issues are very diverse. Some of these are going to be tough," said Craddock. "We’ll take it on."