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Frontline Psych with Doc Bender: 2012 Defense Authorization Act Puts Focus on Mental Health

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Soldiers attend a forum on resilience at Camp Liberty, Iraq. The emotional and mental health training is designed to help soldiers, families and civilian employees cope with the rigors of Army life. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Molleigh Crotty)

Dr. James Bender is a former Army psychologist who deployed to Iraq as the brigade psychologist for the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Hood, Texas. During his deployment, he traveled through Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog on psychological health concerns related to deployment and being in the military.

Hello. Last month, President Barack Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, a blueprint for how the government will manage this year’s defense budget. The bill contained several new provisions focusing on service members and their mental health.

One provision provides that service members will receive a one-on-one evaluation/interview within 120 days of being deployed and a re-evaluation within 180 days of redeployment. Service members exposed to operational risk factors (direct combat, traumatic experiences, etc.) should receive at least two more evaluations within 30 months by a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or licensed social worker. These evaluations are meant to identify post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicidal tendencies and other behavioral health conditions to determine which service members need additional care and treatment.

Additional mental health provisions in the act include:

  • Yellow Ribbon events for reserve component members will provide access and education about different outreach programs available. Also, the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program will be reviewed for its effectiveness.
  • Commanders who order mental health evaluations for those in their command are specifically required to eliminate perceived stigma associated with receiving mental health care and promote the use of such services on par with other medical care. The act also prohibits commanders from using a mental health evaluation as retribution for whistleblowing.
  • Reserve component members on weekend drill will have free access to mental health services
  • Retention bonuses for psychologists to remain in the military

It’s obvious to me after reading the act (not all of it; that would take forever), greater attention will be given to reduce stigma that often prevents service members from seeking help for psychological and behavioral concerns, putting them at greater risk for PTSD and other combat-related conditions. It’s good to know that our lawmakers and the president recognize the importance of military mental health and that increasing access to mental health services will make our military stronger. For more on the act, read the DCoE news article, “Government Supports Early Intervention for Psychological Health Concerns in Defense Bill.”

Thanks for reading. Stay safe and I’ll write again next month.

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