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Family Matters Blog: Caseys Voice Concerns for Military Families

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2010 – I've heard many leaders discuss the need for better military family support, but I've heard few do it with the same passion and candor as the Army chief of staff and his wife.

I was lucky enough to catch Gen. George W. Casey Jr., and his wife, Sheila, speaking to an audience about their concerns for military families during the 2010 Defense Forum in Washington, D.C.

After nine years of war, it's clear the nation will be engaged in conflict for some time to come, Gen. Casey said, but less evident is what effect that long-term combat will have on servicemembers and their families.

"We have to try to figure out the cumulative effects -- how they will manifest themselves after nine years of war," he said. "We have to work our way through that."

The past nine years have left a lasting impact on the nation and its military, Gen. Casey said, citing statistics to drive the point home. More than 3,200 soldiers have died, leaving more than 20,000 family members behind. More than 27,000 soldiers have been wounded, with 7,500 of those soldiers severely wounded and requiring long-term care. Since 2000, the Army has diagnosed about 100,000 soldiers with traumatic brain injury, and since 2003, about 25,000 have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.

"I honestly think those numbers are probably low," the general said. "We wrestle hard with reducing the stigma of seeking care."

Gen. Casey called for better support of soldiers to build their resilience. It takes 24 to 36 months to recover from a combat deployment, he said. Yet, the Army is deploying soldiers at a rate of one year deployed and one year at home. The Army's objective is to have two years at home between deployments, but that won't come to fruition till 2012, he said.

A rapid deployment pace and the current lack of "dwell time" at home have accelerated the cumulative effects of war, Casey said, and his wife agreed.

"Our soldiers are stretched and they're stressed," Mrs. Casey said. "And parents, spouses and children of our troops are all feeling the stress."

Mrs. Casey said she's concerned for the family unit, especially young families who don't have enough time to build the bonds that will sustain them, but yet are battered with continual deployments.

"I worry about the long-term effect this is having on our children," she said.

The general's wife called for more services and support to stay in front of the problem. "If we wait until they're back," she said, "we're not going to be able to react fast enough for them."

She also called for increased support for families with the added challenge of caring for wounded warriors. The support the nation owes these warriors and their caregivers is "significant," she said.

To bolster this support, the Army is putting considerable efforts into developing its behavioral health force, the general said.

Gen. Casey highlighted several Army support programs, including the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, which equips soldiers with the tools to build resilience. The program features an online survey that directs those with needs to online self-help modules. More than 800,000 people have taken the program's online survey since October, he noted.

While progress has been made, much remains to be done, Gen. Casey acknowledged.

The Caseys both praised military members and their families for their resilience in the face of the "new normal" of multiple combat tours. "Our troops and their families have managed remarkably well," the general said. "You can be extremely proud of the men and women, not only of the Army, but all of our armed forces."

I'm grateful for leaders like the general and his wife. People like them help bring light to the challenges our military families face.

For more on the Caseys remarks, read my related American Forces Press Service article, "Army Needs to Bolster Troop, Family Support, Caseys Say."

To comment on this blog, please visit the Family Matters blog.

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