A report issued Sunday from the American Psychological Association said both troops and their families are going without much-needed mental-health care "because of the limited availability of such care and the barriers to accessing care." The report, issued by the association's Presidential Task Force on Military Deployment Services for Youth, Families and Service Members, said 700,000 children have at least one military parent now deployed overseas and that more than 2,700 have lost a parent in Afghanistan or Iraq.
"Deployment can be a complex, and for some families, overwhelming process," states Michelle D. Sherman, co-chair of the APA Task Force. "Deployment means extended separations and the uncertainty of having a loved one in a combat zone. The situation creates an environment in which the development of significant emotional problems for military personnel and their families is a real possibility."
The Pentagon has stepped up its mental-health efforts since 9/11 and the two wars the U.S. launched in its wake. There is better pre- and post-war screenings for troops, and mental-health professionals are available for counseling soldiers in the battle zones. But the APA report notes that there has been a 22% decline in the number of uniformed clinical psychologists in the military. Instead of a standard approach to help soldiers and their families, too often the Pentagon relies on a patchwork approach, where different units develop their own programs that vary widely in quality, the study said.
While the Pentagon insists it is taking sufficient steps to nurture the mental health of its soldiers and families, the nation's top military officer was telling military families in Alaska that in some ways their job is tougher than the one being done by their loved ones actually fighting. "When we go overseas into combat, we know when we're in trouble," Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told military spouses at Elmendorf Air Force Base on Saturday. "We're surrounded by Marines and soldiers, which isn't a bad place to be. For the guys and gals overseas, we're in an environment we're trained for. You don't have that luxury," he told about 60 military spouses. "You think we're in trouble all the time. You sit home and worry."
Pace told the spouses about some of the efforts the services are working on to relieve stress on military families, such as maintaining set tour lengths, providing cash bonuses for extended tours, and lengthening the time between deployments.
When Pace opened the floor to questions, several wives focused on the need for counseling for their mates before and after they came home from combat, according to a summary of his talk provided by the Pentagon. "Obviously, we're more aware of post-traumatic stress disorder, and we're doing the best that we can," one woman said. "But I don't think we're doing enough. We're not only failing our soldiers, but we're failing our families because we don't really know what we're looking for." Often, soldiers don't want to deal with it, she said, and while there are programs out there to help, there is a stigma attached to seeking help. In some cases, they're told to "just suck it up."
Another woman suggested helping soldiers understand and prepare for the transition they'll be making between being in a combat zone and being back with their families. "My husband came home in January for his two-week, mid-tour leave, and we took the four kids to Disneyland in Orlando," she said. "This man who came home was so military, he began executing a plan of attack on Disneyland."