Our Voice: It's time to give our veterans the mental health care they deserve

March 13, 2013 

A new report shows that we still aren't doing enough to help our veterans.

That the military continues to mishandle the diagnosis and treatment for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder is disgraceful.

We can make it easy for them: Every veteran who has served in a combat zone likely has PTSD to some degree. So stop making it so hard for those who have served our country to get the help they need.

This staggering statement sums up the problem: After a decade of war, soldier suicides outpace combat deaths.

Think about that. More of our men and women are killing themselves than are being killed in combat.

Something is terribly wrong.

The Army task force commissioned to investigate the problem found a mess: Paperwork is confusing, training and guidelines are inconsistent and data systems are incompatible. No wonder it's so hard for soldiers to be treated for behavioral health issues.

In the past five years, the Army has more than doubled its staff of military and civilian behavioral health workers, but problems persist, so the service put together a task force to review how it assesses the mental health problems of soldiers.

The task force and study came only after pressure from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. She was appalled to find that hundreds of soldiers had had their PTSD diagnoses reversed by a forensic psychiatry team. Questions arose about whether the switch was made to save money.

Our soldiers shouldn't have to fight to be diagnosed. They've already fought the fight we asked them to, and we should be taking care of them for it. About 150 of the soldiers at Madigan Army Medical Center were able to have their diagnoses reinstated after further review.

Talk about not feeling appreciated. First, they were offered help, then it was taken away, and then they had to fight for treatment all over again. It's shameful that these soldiers had to go through that ordeal after already sacrificing so much.

As Murray pointed out, most of "the 24 findings and 47 recommendations in this report are not new. Creating a universal electronic health record, providing better rural health access, and standardizing the way diagnoses are made, for instance, have been lingering problems for far too long."

That makes us wonder why they can't fix such a flawed system, considering the effect it has on how our veterans are treated. And on their very survival.

A Department of Veterans Affairs study released earlier this year revealed that a veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes, every day, all year long, in this country.

In the home of the brave, that shouldn't be happening.

Murray and others have championed legislation to improve mental health care for veterans. But the follow-through by the military seems to be lacking.

Our veterans deserve better. Fix what's broken in the system so we can help mend those who have served and sacrificed for us all.

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