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The Army And Mental Health

By Joseph Kassabian

All soldier’s identities, places, times, and events have been changed to protect the people in the story from any and all liability. Everything contained in the story is true.

Throughout time soldiers have marched off to war in far flung lands and the whims of those in power with the simple agreement that they would be paid, and taken care of when, or if they returned home. Somewhere in the last ten years of war, the Army forgot one of the key parts of that agreement; they are not giving soldiers the treatment that they had promised, sending soldiers back onto mission, or back home to their families, their mind’s scarred from the effects of war, unbroken hyper vigilance, and trained aggression. The number of soldiers coming home with untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is frightening.

The smallest signs of PTSD can be seen within weeks or months of serving in a combat zone, without a single shot being fired, without a single encounter with the enemy. The act of patrolling a hostile country, always vigilant to the possible threats at hand, scanning the roof tops, eyeing every person who walks by, knowing that they could be strapped with explosives, every car that drives by, the constant thought of being in another person’s crosshairs. These are not feelings and habits one can just put down after a year, or sometimes more. They stay with you for life.

The Army says they are at the cutting edge of PTSD and mental health treatment; the reality is something totally different. While serving in a combat theater soldiers can request to see a Chaplin for spiritual help, Combat Stress for anger management and learning to deal with stress, and Behavioral Health for mental health concerns. None of these things really work. A Chaplin, while having the best intentions, will always tell you what you’re doing while at war is totally justified, and has very limited training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. It’s not the Chaplin’s fault, being an officer in the army he is limited to what he can really say and do.

Combat Stress is the Army’s answer to a soldier’s massive amounts of stress one deals with while deployed. Easily the most stressful time of a soldier’s life, it can be very hard to deal with, some get pushed over the edge, and record amounts of these soldiers are taking their own lives every year. A soldier who has attended the Army’s Combat Stress class talked anonymously about his experiences. “Instead of asking me what was stressing me out or anything, they tried to teach me breathing exercises that would calm me down.” He laughed “Last time I checked I do combat patrols, what the fuck kind of miracles will breathing exercises do me out there?” He said, aggravated, “I went to them for help and they tell me this shit” He threw away his cigarette “oh yeah they gave me pamphlets to read too.” Another soldier talked about the Combat Stress class held at Kandahar Air Field, “They made us pet a dog. I’m not even kidding. That was it.”

Behavioral Health is normally something soldiers are sent to by their commanders. The process normally begins when a soldier snaps either under stress or just being sick of their condition, probably at a supervisor, has their weapons taken away, and then is shipped off to a bigger outpost where they can find a Behavioral Health ‘specialists’. The Army insists that soldiers that request, or are sent here, for help are not ostracized, judged, or punished. This is not true. Soldiers are looked down at, mercilessly taunted, and thought of as ‘weak’. Normally no sort of diagnosis is made, and the soldier is just medicated, the medication can’t be found at outlying outposts, so the medicated soldier runs out, and the process starts over again. It should be noted that these ‘specialists’ at behavioral health are just army medics. Not to speak badly of the medical corps of the United States Army, they are well trained emergency medical personnel, able to fight like a soldier, but save life like an EMT, but would you go to an EMT for your mental health? Exactly.

The biggest problem soldier’s face is PTSD. Soldiers in theater can feel themselves changing, noticing that they can’t sleep, are always aggressive, and suffer from random panic attacks. A soldier talks about what he’s noticed “I suffered a panic attack while trying to get coffee, large groups of people piss me off.” The soldier never suffered panic attacks beforehand. Other soldiers, once level headed, now kill and torment animals for entertainment, fight each other, and, as recent news has shown, kill innocent civilians. Many soldiers go home with untreated mental disorders, a year’s worth of pent up anger and stress, and unrepentant aggression. When do seek help once home they jump through hoops of paperwork and judgment, and if you are stationed at Fort Hood Texas, of November massacre fame, you can wait up to three months to see someone for help.

What does all this mean? Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are coming home from war, many untreated and undiagnosed. Cast out by an uncaring, unfeeling organization that cuts costs instead of extending the hand of once promised medical treatment. What do soldiers do when all the pamphlets, untrained medical personnel, breathing exercises, dogs, and preaching fail them? Extreme cases can unfortunately be found on the evening news.

What kind of world do we live in where petting a dog is considered a medical practice? A world with no oversight or common sense, and where words are as good as actions. Paying lip service to soldiers and civilians does the Department of Defense (DoD) nothing for anybody. Instead the DoD pushes the blame of unstable soldiers on the rising number of drug and alcohol abuse cases within the armed forces, never mind the fact that soldiers diagnosed with PTSD are more likely to resort to drugs for self medication. How long will it take the DoD to own up for their mistakes and abandonment? If Vietnam teaches us anything, the better part of half of a century.


  1. December 12, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    So, so true… All of it.

  2. asian sensation
    December 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    I wouldn’t go to me for mental health treatment either.

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