Franklin James Cook

In Wake of Fort Hood, Focus Is on Mental-Health Readiness

In Mental Illness, Prevention on November 8, 2009 at 10:12 am

In “At Walter Reed, a Palpable Strain on Mental-Health System,” Washington Post reporters Anne Hull and Dana Priest use the deadly shooting rampage last week by an army psychiatrist at Fort Hood, Texas, as a backdrop to starkly criticize what could be called the military’s lack of mental-health readiness.

More than two years after the nation’s political and military leaders pledged to improve mental-health care, their promises have fallen short at military hospitals around the country, according to mental-health professionals, Army officials, and wounded soldiers and their families … It isn’t only Walter Reed that is under fresh scrutiny [after the shootings]: Evidence of an undermanned, overworked health-care system stretches all the way to the Pentagon, where all of the top health-policy positions remain unfilled, leaving a void on an issue long fraught with inefficiencies and entrenched bureaucracies.

The report notes that the top civilian position in the Department of Defense focused on healthcare is vacant (Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs), along with “three other top positions — the principal deputy, the deputy for clinical programs and policy, and the chief financial officer post.”

The vacancies occur as the Army in particular struggles with a soaring suicide rate. In 2009 so far, 117 active-duty Army soldiers were reported to have committed suicide, with 81 of those cases confirmed — up from 103 suicides a year earlier.

Quoted in the report is PFC Sophia Taylor, who is receiving treatment at Walter Reed while the Army prepares to give her a dishonorable discharge, which she plans to oppose.

“The amputees get the great treatment,” Taylor said. “Purple Hearts, money for losing their limbs. I have a lot of respect for them. But I lost my mind, and I couldn’t even get a simple ‘thank you for your service.'”

Related SPNAC post: “Culture of Stigma Is a Key Cause of Military, Veteran Suicides” at http://tinyurl.com/StigmaMilitary .

[The abridged URL for this post is http://tinyurl.com/MentalHealthReadiness .]

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