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Department Keeps Commitment to Stress Care, Official Says

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 2009 – The Defense Department is deeply committed to providing the best care possible for military members with post-traumatic stress disorder, despite the determination that the disorder does not meet the criteria for the Purple Heart, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said yesterday.

The decision, announced earlier this week, followed months of evaluation by awards experts in the Pentagon Awards Advisory Group. The group used “very precise criteria” and longstanding historical definitions in making its determination, Morrell said during a Pentagon briefing.

"I don't think anybody should assume that that decision is in any way reflective on how seriously we take the problem of PTSD," he said.

“So, just because an awards committee believes this particular injury does not qualify for this award, does not in any way reflect that we don't take this problem seriously and aren't committed to doing everything we possibly can towards preventing it, towards treating it, towards taking care of those who are suffering with it,” he said.

Morrell noted the heavy investment the Defense Department has made into preventing and treating PTSD.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted in November that recent studies suggest as many as 20 percent of today’s troops may suffer from the disorder.

“I think we will have spent about a billion dollars on research, development, treatment, preventative measures,” Morrell said. “And I think you will see more and more money being spent to combat this very real problem that we are all terribly concerned with.”

As one example, the Defense Department broke ground in June for the National Intrepid Center of Excellence for psychological health and traumatic brain injury at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. That $70 million, 75,000-square-foot facility, funded by the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, will serve as the clinical research and educational arm of the Defense Department’s Center of Excellence for psychological health and TBI.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates toured another facility, the Restoration and Resilience Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, in May, calling the care it provides soldiers with PTSD as an example of the new approaches the military is exploring.

“They are doing some amazing things here in terms of helping soldiers who want to remain soldiers, but who have been wounded with post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “It is a multi-month effort by a lot of caring people, and they are showing some real success in restoring these soldiers.”

Also, the military has implemented better reporting mechanisms for those potentially affected, and the Defense Department has launched departmentwide efforts aimed at reducing the stigma attached with receiving mental health services in the military.

Gates took his appeal directly to senior noncommissioned officers attending the Sergeants Major Academy during his visit to Fort Bliss.

“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,” Gates told the NCOs. “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,” Gates 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.”

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