Military Works to Eliminate Perceived Mental Health Treatment Stigma
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 7, 2008 Why, when there’s no stigma attached to getting treatment for any other combat injury, do troops hesitate to step forward to get the mental health care they need?
That’s the challenge facing military leaders as they encourage their troops suffering from combat stress to seek mental health services, said Marine Lt. Gen. John Sattler, who’s heading the new Joint Staff Wounded Warrior Integration Team.
Sattler, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff, said the military’s uncomplaining, can-do spirit can make some troops resist seeking treatment for what Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates calls “the unseen scars of war.”
“Sometimes our toughness can be our biggest obstacle in getting those injuries healed,” Sattler said.
“If you … have been hit in battle and have an external wound, you go forward and you receive medical treatment, and you are not ashamed in any way, shape or form to go get that treatment,” he said. “But for some reason, [there’s a] stigma associated with a nonphysical battle injury such as traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We have to make sure that our men and women know there is no stigma associated with seeking the same high degree of medical care to make sure those injures are also taken care of,” he said.
The Joint Staff Wounded Warrior Integration Team is focusing much of its work on better understanding PTSD and TBI and their effects, and getting people with symptoms to step forward, Sattler said.
“As the research continues and the care becomes better, it is our responsibility to make sure we alleviate the stigma and ensure our men and women looking for that type of help are unashamed about it,” he said.
Getting treatment is a sign of strength, not weakness, and improves a servicemember’s duty performance, he said. “They are going to perform better, they will be better warriors – soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines – if they are completely healed inside as well as outside,” he said.
Gates urged senior noncommissioned officers attending the Sergeants Major Academy for their help in getting troops who need it to seek combat-related mental-health care.
“All of you have a special role in encouraging troops to seek help for the unseen scars of war -- to let them know that doing so is a sign of strength and maturity,” he said during his May 1 visit to Fort Bliss, Texas. “I urge you all to talk with those below you to find out where we can continue to improve.
“Those who have sacrificed for our nation deserve the best care they can get,” he continued. “As I have said before, there is no higher priority for the Department of Defense, after the war itself, than caring for our wounded warriors.”