Health Team

Army Helps Returning GIs with More Mental-Health Screenings

The Army has revised its mental-health care for soldiers by screening for depression or other problems both when they return and six months later, catching problems that take time to develop.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Soldiers returning from combat often bring home mental issues – perhaps depression, perhaps post-traumatic stress disorder. The military has undertaken an effort to diagnose and treat soldiers with a new mental-health screening process.

Tom Williams served in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a year. Now he's retired.

“I spent the first six months I was back looking at the ground to make sure I didn't get my legs blown off. And I was looking at the ground in the mall, and I looked at the ground in McDonald’s.

As with Williams, readjustment to civilian life is a challenge for many soldiers. That’s why Army researchers reviewed their mental-health screening programs.

Soldiers are screened after they return from combat, and a newer program screens them about six months after they arrive home.

“It picks up a second group of soldiers who were not identified on the first screen, and it's actually a larger group of soldiers who had the mental health problems,” said Dr. Charles Milliken of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

The Army's research results are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Doctors reported that they found the second screen picked up significantly more mental health issues, such as an almost 17 percent increase in interpersonal conflicts.

They also said that the second screening and mental-health training soldiers receive actually encourage soldiers to seek care when they need it.

“We know soldiers tend to have stigma about going in to get mental-health care, so something about the screening-training process is countering that stigma and making it more OK for them to get care,” Col. Milliken said.

Tom Williams agreed, saying the second screening just makes sense.

“It takes time for reactions to start, and it takes time for you to recognize that there's something wrong, that your behaviors are not just affecting you. They're affecting someone you probably love or care for,” Williams said.

There is another piece to the mental-health improvements, too. Soldiers go through what's called "Battlemind Training" with other members of their unit.

It helps them understand common problems that other soldiers have reported experiencing after a year of combat.

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Allen Mask, M.D., Reporter
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