DoD Health Program to Help Redeploying Troops
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 4, 2005 Servicemembers returning from deployments will now participate in a post-deployment health reassessment program that all the services are instituting, defense officials said at a Pentagon news conference today.
This new program will assess the health - both physical and mental - of servicemembers some 90 to 120 days after they have redeployed.
"We recognize that deployments may have an impact on the health and well-being of our servicemembers, and we know from research that health concerns are identified even several months after returning from operational deployments," said Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
This new program is in addition to the routine post-deployment health screening that all servicemembers go through upon return to the states from a deployment. More than 900,000 servicemembers have already gone through that program. The reassessment program is designed to find servicemembers whose symptoms don't show up immediately. The program aims to get them the help they need, the doctor said.
The program builds on test programs the services have conducted since June. The Army, Navy and Marine Corps tested the program on 3,000 servicemembers. Medical officials said the pilot program was effective and now look to expand it to all returning servicemembers.
Those three services plus the Air Force - which started the test program in September - will institute the program in January 2006, officials said.
Key elements of the program include outreach to servicemembers, education and training for servicemembers and their families, screening of servicemembers, assessment by medical professionals, evaluation and treatment, and follow-up. The Army, Navy and Marine Corps will do the assessments face to face with the servicemembers. The Air Force plan calls for airmen to answer an online survey and incorporate the survey in with their members' annual physicals.
Winkenwerder said the results so far do not indicate that the global war on terror is affecting "servicemembers or their families in ways different from past wars. What's different is the way we're responding."
The assistant secretary said that it is important that military leaders, servicemembers and clinicians understand the process and buy into it. "Effective education to gain leadership support and servicemember participation and optimal clinical practice is critical to the success of this program," he said.
Health officials want to destigmatize the process of servicemembers going to health professionals for mental or physical help. Returning combat veterans shouldn't believe they must deal with the stresses they experienced by themselves, said Navy surgeon general Vice Adm. Donald Arthur.
"Everyone who goes into combat is in some way psychologically affected," he said. "I don't think you can get around that fact.
He said it's significant that the military is addressing the issue upfront "with people who understand combat because they have also been there and can more readily talk with the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are coming back."
"We have learned that we shouldn't let our combat veterans go out into society without any questions asked or without any contact, as we used to do," Arthur noted.
The admiral said early contact with servicemembers reduces stress and takes care of family issues, noting that "combat is inherently stressful."
Winkenwerder said active-duty and reserve-component personnel will be treated exactly the same. Unit commanders are charged with ensuring servicemembers participate in this program.