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Army to Launch Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD Education Program

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 17, 2007 – Within 90 days, all soldiers will receive information to help them identify symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injury, and they will be urged to seek treatment if necessary, Army officials told reporters at the Pentagon today.

Mental health care professionals will brief Army Secretary Pete Geren on the new program at the Pentagon tomorrow. And by Oct. 18, the same educational supplement will have been presented to platoon-sized groups of active-duty, reserve and National Guard soldiers throughout the force.

“The mild traumatic brain injury and the post-traumatic stress disorders -- they’re real,” said Army Lt. Gen. James Campbell, director of the Army staff. “They impact soldiers and impact those soldiers’ families. And as a result of that, that impacts the readiness of our great Army.”

During his 37-year career, Campbell said he recalls only two other instances when the Army mandated such extensive “chain training” programs.

According to subject matter experts, mild traumatic brain injury is an affliction that’s become a signature injury of the war on terror, often resulting from soldiers’ proximity to roadside bombs, mortars and other explosions. Symptoms are similar to those resulting from a concussion, from slower reaction times to emotional and cognitive problems.

PTSD often occurs from a feeling of helplessness at the time of a severely traumatic event. It manifests itself in three clusters of symptoms: intrusive re-experiencing of the event, numbness or disassociation, and hypervigilance, or the feeling that one is constantly “on edge.”

Traumatic brain injury, which ranges from mild to moderate and severe cases, requires an “injury event,” while PTSD can occur from cumulative effects of combat or extended deployments.

During two 30-minute multimedia presentations that make up the program, soldiers will learn to identify basic symptoms in themselves and other soldiers. Afterwards, health professionals will answer troops’ questions. The Army also has produced a video to make soldiers’ family members more sensitive to possible warning signs and treatment options.

Campbell said the program’s main objective is to reverse the tendency in military culture to attach a stigma to mental health care.

“I’m not naive. There is a huge culture issue here, and it is this: that those leaders or soldiers who seek help could be perceived … as being weak,” he said. “The whole thrust behind this program is that if you are, in fact, someone who needs help, that desire to get that help is not perceived as a weakness but rather as a strength, as a personal courage to do it.”

Anticipating greater demand on its medical system, the Army is actively recruiting health care practitioners, hoping to gain 270 professionals. Currently, some soldiers wait up to one month before receiving treatment; the Army is seeking to reduce that amount of time.

“The sooner the intervention is made, the easier it is to treat,” said Army Dr. (Col.) Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, director of Army’s Proponency Office for Behavioral Health. “We don’t want another Vietnam. We don’t want people with chronic symptoms who first present (them) 15, 20, 25 years later when it’s really hard to get rid of the symptoms.

“We want to take care of them and help the person right away,” she added.

Soldiers and their families will be able to learn more about the program at www.army.mil. Also, the Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline can be reached at 1-800-984-8523, or via email at wsfsupport@conus.army.mil.

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