We have learned a lot after two decades of the war on terror, but some of the most important lessons do not find their way into our basic military training. Our review of Department of Defense (DOD) procedures tells us that more needs to be done in terms of training military personnel on post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues that are too often the byproduct of conflict. modern.
In our view, the DOD should institute mandatory mental health training for all active duty and reserve personnel. This is a simple and urgent suggestion that our vets deserve, and two filmmakers from Texas are highlighting the problem.
The need is enormous and particularly relevant here in North Texas where we are the proud home of a large community of veterans. On Thursday, the government released data showing suicide rates among military personnel jumped 15% last year. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the statistics “disturbing” and said “the trends are not going in the right direction”.
These trends affect both current and former military personnel. Recent research from the Rand Corp. show that veterans commit suicide almost twice as much as non-veterans. In 2018, the suicide rate for Veterans aged 18 to 34 was 45.9 per 100,000, almost three times that of non-Veterans of the same age group (16.5 per 100,000).
It’s not just about battle scars. In fact, a 2015 study published in the Epidemiology annals, showed that, among troops serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2007, those who were never deployed had higher suicide rates than those who did.
And it’s not just about suicide. Veterans face a myriad of mental health risk factors. According to a separate study by Rand, 1 in 5 Veterans have experienced mental health issues like PTSD, major depression, and anxiety.
In short, those who serve must be better served.
None of this is new to the military community. Thousands of vets and their families live in fear of being the next statistic or in the frustration of the inevitable feeling that someone else will be.
In recent years, dozens of nonprofits have sprung up to address this need – programs like the Wounded Warrior Project, the Robert Irvine Foundation, Mission 22, the Gary Sinise Foundation, the Bob Woodruff Foundation and Hope For the Warriors.
And new initiatives have also emerged within government funded ministries. In its 2018-2024 strategic plan, the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) identified the prevention of veteran suicide as its highest clinical priority.
“We realize we need to do better to prevent suicide and ensure that resources are available and easily accessible,” said Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Army Chief of Staff General James C. McConville, in a joint statement last week.
We spoke with representatives from every major military branch last week, as well as with the DOD and the VA. All agreed that this was a critical issue and all pointed to military programs designed to help.
Austin office spokesperson Major Charlie Dietz said DOD policy requires military departments to provide some form of mental health training.
“Although the DOD has made significant progress in some areas, we understand that we need to do more,” Dietz wrote to us. “Our efforts to provide mental health care and reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health care are ongoing and a priority for all within the force.”
The current approach is a patchwork of disconnected programs. Many of these programs are related to the transition from a veterinarian to civilian life. Some programs are offered as continuing education. Others are just one option on a menu of benefits available to vets. Some are compulsory. Most are not. One of the most comprehensive, a Navy program called Warrior Toughness, begins as soon as a recruit joins the Navy and includes a three-day training camp where recruits learn to “recalibrate,” the Navy, Lt. Cmdr. Patricia Kreuzberger told us that.
All these efforts are worth it. But more can be done. No consistent and uniform training is required of all military personnel to equip those who may be struggling with mental health issues, let alone preventative training before they are faced with situations that could cause these. problems.
This is what the DOD should create. This could be part of a recruit’s initial training (what the military calls basic combat training and the navy calls boot camp). It would not have to replace existing programs. But it should provide all military personnel with a basic level of care and preparedness.
On Friday, two young Texans premiered in New York a documentary film titled Hell or high seas. He follows Taylor Grieger and Stephen O’Shea on a trip from Pensacola, Florida to Cape Horn on a 37-foot single-mast sailboat called the Ole Lady. It is also a chronicle of Grieger’s battle with PTSD. Grieger was a Navy lifeguard who attempted suicide himself and knows many others who died this way, some of whom he heard about on their sailing trip to raise awareness of the issue.
“Every other port we came in, we found that someone I had been deployed with or worked with had committed suicide,” Grieger told the Bryan-College Station Eagle.
Grieger believes experiences like this trip could help other veterans. He created American Sailing Foundation Odysseus giving vets with PTSD a physically demanding mission through trusted friendships to help them heal. Organizations like Mission Continues in the United States and the Royal Logistic Corps Association in the United Kingdom have created similar adventure therapy programs.
But the DOD should focus on prevention and equipping recruits before they need it. Towards the end of Hell or high seas, Grieger ponders, “What if you prevent it?” What if you take care of the guys before they even get to this point? “
This is a question military leaders should continue to ask. And mandatory universal military training in mental health should be part of that pursuit.