New Army study released: deployments vs. mental health

soldier and babyRecent Study…
I was listening to the daily news brief on NPR today, and they read a story about how an Army Task Force conducted a study and found that the length of deployment is related to instances of mental health problems. This story is on the heels of another story I read online at Time Magazine speaking to how the mental-health needs of the military and their families aren’t met, according to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association.

Right now, Soldiers are supposed to be deployed for 15-months (recently increased from 12 months) and then be home for 12 months. Marines are deployed for 7-8 months, then come home for 7-8 months.

More after the jump…

The Army’s standards…
First of all, I’ve seen first hand that the Army system is hardly effective. As a reservist, I volunteered for Active Duty right after 9/11. I was put to work on the base where my husband was stationed, which served as a training/deployment site for Reserve and National Guard Soldiers from the surrounding three states. My job was assisting these Soldiers with their administrative, pay and legal paperwork prior to their deployment. What I saw was during the first year of the war, they brought thousands of reserve and national guard soldiers to the base. There were back ups in Kuwait and in Baghdad, so those soldiers would sometimes sit at our base “training” for 3, 4, 5 months. THEN they were finally sent to Kuwait, where they would also sit for 3 or 4 months. Here’s the kicker – their 12-month deployment didn’t start until they landed in Iraq! They had already been away from their families, their jobs, their small businesses, their lives for a year. Then, a lot of them got extended in Iraq, and ended up being there for 18 months.

It’s easy to say, “well, they signed up for this.” But no one expects to be jerked around, misused, and have their time WASTED at the expense of their personal and often professional lives. And this seemed to really all be due to bad planning, lack of resources. Never before had I seen “hurry up and wait” executed so religiously.

Fast forward…
So fast-forward a few years (2004), and I’m working as a contractor promoting the military blood program, planning blood drives, etc. Part of my job was to give a briefing to military leaders explaining who could donate, the differences between the military blood program and a civilian program like Red Cross, and hopefully, get them to host a blood drive at their unit area.

I was a little early for my briefing, so I listened to the guy before me – a Navy Chaplain talking about the services that the Chaplains offered, focusing on the fact that there are lots of avenues for counseling help – not just medical. The Chaplains were happy to offer couples/family/personal counseling as well as retreats in the hopes that tough Marines would talk to them rather than not seeking any help because of the very real stigma of going to a mental health doctor.

One point that he made that really struck me was that the Marine Corps had done a study and found that battle focus and combat readiness decrease markedly after six months in a combat situation. My first thought was, “well, why the hell did they just extend my brother-in-law for the second time!” He had already been in Iraq for 14 months with the Army.

So why does the Marine Corps know the limits for their people but the Army doesn’t? Ridiculous.

No laughing matter…
When I heard the study today on NPR, I just had to laugh. It’s so stupid for them to say NOW that long deployments contribute to mental health problems. And that Soldiers and marines really need 18-36 months of downtime to “reset” before returning to combat. Fat chance! Marines are lucky if they get 8 months.

Even worse, their “downtime”, both for Soldiers and Marines, is spent training up for the next deployment – sometimes meaning months at a time away from their families.

The VA is overwhelmed. Deployments aren’t changing. Marines are on their fourth and fifth rotations to Iraq – wondering at the odds of them coming home whole one more time. Soldiers remain in combat situations for 18 months at a time. It really is madness.

At least they did a study. I hope they put it to use. I hope the citizens of this country welcome these service members back with open arms, because they’re going to need lots of help, and the government just isn’t equipped to provide it.

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