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Eye Opener: Growing efforts to help service members

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Friday! The Ft. Hood shooting rampage comes amid growing cooperation between the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs to address the stresses faced by current and former service members.

The Ft. Hood base "has been hard hit by the growing strain on the Army from multiple combat deployments -- with its personnel suffering the highest number of suicides among Army installations since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003," The Post's Ann Scott Tyson reports Friday.

"After many years of lengthy war zone rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army personnel are experiencing record rates of suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health problems, as well as worsening alcohol and drug abuse."

"I'm not sure most Americans are aware of this stress and strain on our military, but I believe that this horrific incident at Fort Hood will raise awareness across the country," retired Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw writes Friday for's On Leadership.

"There is also enormous stress on our support systems, more specifically the medical and psychological systems that heal our wounded and care for the many soldiers who return from deployments with hidden wounds," Henshaw said.

Just Wednesday, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen told a meeting of mental health experts that "ton of programs” have been generated since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “But I need programs that work,”

“I need programs where we can see results and see output. Anything we put in place, we really need to measure how we’re doing," Mullen said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki also co-hosted the first-ever join meeting on military mental health concerns last week in Washington.

“This is about doing what is best for those who serve this country and using every federal, state and community asset to do it,” Shinseki said at the conference. “We’re proud of the people and the organizations who have stepped up today to make sure everyone who fought for this country gets a fighting chance for a sound mind and an independent life.”

The Defense authorization bill signed last week by President Obama also requires service members returning from overseas conflicts to meet face-to-face with mental health experts once they return. Currently, military personnel must self-report mental health concerns, which official acknowledge has kept many from seeking assistance. The Pentagon is expected to issue new guidelines on how the new process will work by the Spring.

Here's a list of Web sites providing support to service members and their families: An Army site, serving as an interactive, confidential self-help solution to behavioral health needs following deployment. Popular with military spouses and women in uniform. A news and social-networking site with more than 10 million members, mostly service members and their families. The VA's one-stop resource for suicide prevention, substance abuse issues, PTSD, depression and other concerns with returning service members.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Cabinet and Staff News: A profile of border czar Alan Bersin. The Obama administration is dispatching big names to next week's APEC forum in Singapore. First Lady Michelle Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu host high school science students. A new inspector general at Amtrak.

Honor rules, CDC urges vendors of H1N1 vaccine: A top federal health official on Thursday urged state and local health departments to be on the lookout for the possible diversion of the vaccine to people who don't yet qualify for it.

SBA bailouts draw little notice: When Congress negotiated the final details of the economic stimulus plan, Democrats needed Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), so she asked for a loan program aimed at helping Maine's ailing lobster industry.

At hearing on future of Postal Service, no dearth of despondency: The title of a Congressional hearing, "More Than Stamps: Adapting the Postal Service to a Changing World," conveyed the possibility that if only the neighborhood post office could sell more than its traditional range of goods and services, it might be able to catch up with a world that seems to have left it behind.

Archives officials grilled on the Hill over missing data drives: Several months ago, Archives officials reported to a Congressional panel about a missing hard drive containing archived electronic data representing thousands of e-mail messages containing data from the Clinton Administration.

Swine flu follies at Social Security Administration: The union representing thousands of Social Security Administration employees has reacted angrily to an official's recent assertion that H1N1 flu is not a serious communicable disease.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | November 6, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Next: Duckworth recalls Obama at Walter Reed


I have served as a Sponsor in the Naval Academy's Midshipman Sponsor Program, in which EVERY arriving Plebe is assigned a family who stays with them for their four years and beyond. We open our homes and hearts to these young people and begin lifelong friendships, which benefit both the Mid and the sponsor family, We are not parents, we are friends, sounding boards, advisors, listeners.

Several years ago, I proposed this type of program to a Flag Officer at Walter Reed. While it was considered, I was told that insurance was an issue which I felt was strange - we take our Mids off base and are NEVER asked for proof of insurance.

Therefore, no such program was instituted. Think about it: Service Clubs, such as Rotary or the West Point Club, could participate and then, when the wounded soldier returns to his home, a Rotary Club member there would take over as this soldier's friend/contact/advisor. We are not mental health professional; we are friends.

My program was to be aimed at wounded veterans being returned to Walter Reed and Bethesda for treatment, AND their family members, living in a strange city, who often need friends very badly too. Any need will be met, if possible - from shopping trips to visits in homes to driving people to/from airports.

So Admiral Mullen, here's a program that could work. All Service Academies have sponsor programs and they do work. If you want to talk about this, and a program that I volunteer with, (trips on the water for vets in re-hab and their families) please contact me at: midspnsr18@aol. THIS IS A PROGRAM THAT IS NEEDED AND CAN WORK - FOR THE LONG TERM TOO.

Posted by: carolineC1 | November 6, 2009 7:44 AM | Report abuse

ADM Mullen:
For the last 20 years, Army MEDCOM has been slowly but surely eroding the quality of the social work services available in DoD. They have done this by banning those who hold degrees in Social Work Management/Policy. They have converted the vacancy announcements for ALL social work related positions to require Clinical degrees, clinical licensing and clinical experience. Of course, if the position is providing direct therapeutic services, those credentials are required. However, they have shut out all whose education and work experience is on social service management, this includes program TESTING AND EVALUATION FOR RESULTS. This results in a 100% pool of candidates for senior leadership positions whose experience and knowledge base is in clinical therapy, but have no experience in program management. Veteran Who Wanted to Help

Posted by: Einberliner505 | November 8, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

This article once again misses the main point relevant to successfully allowing servicemen to transition to civilian life. Congress has not assigned this responsibility to the Department of Veterans' Affairs but rather to the Department of Labor, which is not even mentioned in the article. A minority of veterans require treatment for their war wounds, physical and psychological, from a veterans' medical facility. The majority just want to get on with their lives as civilians but are not permitted to do so because the Department of Labor has long had a policy of helping employers discriminate against veterans. It wrongfully defends federal agencies which refuse to hire veterans because the non-veterans already employed would feel uneasy working with someone who willingly defended their country while the non-veterans were thinking only of their own careers and personal safety. Department of Labor employees are paid to assist veterans, and those who have made it impossible for veterans to find jobs through illegal policy decisions, such as classifying only jobs paying less than $25,000 per year as suitable for veterans, should have been removed and sentenced for criminal malfeasance years ago. Because they were not, a new generation of veterans is facing impoverishment and homelessness on an even larger scale than the veterans of the Vietnam Era were forced to do.

Posted by: cwheckman | November 9, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

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