Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, announced Monday the implementation of a new clinical program to assess the health of service members three to six months after redeployment, focusing on support to those needing assistance with post traumatic stress disorder, psychological and social readjustment issues.
The program expands the range of care offered to service members through the pre- and post-deployment health assessments, begun a few years ago and expanded in 2003. These assessments are screening procedures to gather health information from deploying and returning service members that aid communication with a healthcare provider, and assist in evaluating a service members health.
This new initiative is designed to assist service members who have returned from areas of combat operations to ensure their health and well being, Winkenwerder said. The thrust is to bring them in and ask, How are you doing? How is your family doing? Are you having stress or adjustment issues? How can we help you?
Winkenwerder noted the need for such attention and support in the time period of weeks to months after return. The assessment will consider the overall health of the returning service member, with emphasis on mental health and readjustment. Current data show only a small percentage of individuals report problems immediately following deployment. In some cases, service members may have concerns, but, understandably, want to go home, he said. Some two to three months later or more may experience health issues and adjustment problems, but may be reluctant or not know how to seek help.
We have the capacity and the desire to manage these issues proactively, he said. And, it is the right thing for us to do. With this new disciplined and caring process we intend to remove stigma and reach those needing support. Importantly, we also will be implementing this program for members of the Reserves and Guard, and expect that through our partnership with the VA, and our own Tricare program, we will be able to provide the services.
Winkenwerder directed implementation of the program by early spring 2005. A working group is preparing policy and protocols for a smooth implementation. The working group includes representatives from the offices of the military services surgeons general, family services teams, the National Guard Bureau, Reserve Affairs, the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board and other military medical organizations.