Veterans Are Only Part of the Challenge

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MUNIR UZ ZAMAN / AFP / Getty Images

An officer from 3rd Platoon, Bulldog Troop, 1st Squadron, 91st U.S. Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team watches during a patrol in the area of Ahmadzi village in Muhammad Agah, Logar Province, Afghanistan, on Oct. 6, 2012.

Our active-duty military is in the midst of a mental-health crisis: the suicide numbers are climbing and the volume of psychotropic medications prescribed is multiplying.

While both President Obama and Mitt Romney have plans to improve the overall military mental health system, they seem to focus too much on veterans (who do need the help), but with scant attention paid the active-duty force.

My question to both is simple: with nearly a troop-a-day dying at his or her own hand, what are your plans to stop this epidemic?

Too often, the government’s strategy is to throw more money at vexing problems. The Pentagon recently announced that it is funneling $100 million to better understand the roots of, and potential fixes for, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury that are signature wounds of the post-9/11 wars.

This is hardly a new investment: the Defense Department has spent more than $700 million on some 500 studies into TBI alone since 2007. It’s been my experience in the field of military mental health that the federal government can’t spend such large sums smartly, so they hire more “for-profit” contractors…and the cycle repeats itself again and again.

Obama’s August announcement on “Improving Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members, and Military Families” focuses largely on the VA – helping the folks who have fought our wars – and not on the active-duty and reserve forces who are fighting our wars.

Likewise, Romney has yet to detail how he would tend to the mental ailments now afflicting our active-duty troops. In a recent speech to the American Legion, he said that he would improve veterans’ access to health care by hiring more mental-health professionals and letting veterans see Tricare military-healthcare providers. It’s a good idea, and I’m happy that he wants to focus on straightening out the VA, but has he forgotten about those still serving?

It’s trite, but true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

“Long deployments and intense combat conditions require optimal support for the emotional and mental health needs of our service members and their families,” Obama has noted. The Rand Corp. has said that about one in five troops deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. With thousands of our warriors heading home over the coming months, shouldn’t we place efforts on helping them before they become vets and get dumped into the already overwhelmed VA?

We need to take charge immediately and dictate mandatory, ongoing proactive counseling for active-duty troops. I wrote and implemented such a program at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (aka boot camp) in San Diego. We routinely put drill instructors through individual and group counseling. We helped these Marines understand how they might react to strss (excessive drinking, social withdrawal, anger outbursts, etc). Once their patterns were recognized, we developed targeted coping strategies.

Such a preventative approach works because – since everyone has to do it – there is no stigma associated with asking for help (Think of it as Don’t Ask, Do Tell).

Contrast our Band-Aid approach to mental ills with the way we now deal with physical health. Routine screenings, including mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies, let us detect cancer at early stages, typically before any symptoms have been detected. The early discovery doesn’t prevent the cancer, but it allows early action, which dramatically increases changes of survival and quality of life.

It’s about time we adopted such an approach for our men and women still in uniform.

Marjorie Morrison is a San Diego psychologist and author of the just-published book, The Inside Battle: Our Military Mental Health Crisis.

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geral sosbee
geral sosbee


Military (un)Intel, fbi thugs, retarded police team up in criminal intrigue ag/USA combat vet:


QUESTIONS! geral sosbee (956)622-0768

Serve your country in war, return home amp; serve again; then be treated as an insane experimental dog for speaking out against fbi/cia atrocities: CJS, fbi , Police, Mil Intel, UT Chancellor GONE MAD!UT police create fraudulent 'BOLO' against ME to cover up crimes by UT police amp; fbi: generations of young soldiers must be educated on the subject of USA's global, inhumane, murderous goals amp; methodologies as dictated by fbi/cia psychopathic fools; then, the assassins who send our troops to war will need to look over their own shoulders more than the unfortunate Grunts are required to do.

Jim S.
Jim S.

Hey Marjorie: "they seem to focus too much on veterans (who do need the help), but with scant attention paid the active-duty force." Nobody needs go any further then that line. Suggestion, next time visit the DoD as well as the VA sites and Research before trying to write what you so obviouly show you haven't a clue about!!!!! Now if you were writing about the previous administration and up to the 110th and 111th, even with that obstruction in the Senate, then the 112th since the midterms, then you're spot on but they weren't even concerned about the veterans!!

USN All Shore '67-'71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country '70-'71

Still: No Revenues {nor private reagan capitalism economic investments,

free market capitalism} = No Demand For = No Sacrifice = No Support =

DeJa-Vu all over again!.

“Veterans were very offended” by Romney

Larry Pressler, who served 22 years in Congress as a Republican, speaks with Salon about why he's endorsing Obama

"Everybody has all these programs, ball games praising veterans, and all

the presidential candidates praise them, but Obama’s the only one

that’s got the budget money. And he’s the only one willing to — if we

have to raise taxes in order to help veterans, we’ll have to raise them

on the very wealthy, and maybe on everybody, but we’ve got to do it."

Former Sen. Larry Pressler. (R-SD) 'Nam Vet Endorses Obama

After abandoning the Main Missions for sending troops into that region

with the first drum beat pointed at Iraq and almost full support of

those served!

USN All Shore '67-'71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country '70-'71

Dawg479 1 Like

Jim, welcome home.   

If I broke my arm in 2004 I would seek or appreciate someone pointing me in the direction of help in 2004, not 2005/06/07.  I do not, in any way, see that Marjorie is inferring that we stop or reduce the support and services given to Veterans.  It seems though, that the suggestion to attack this debilitating disease early and before it's too late is both logical and necessary to curtail the ever increasing number of suicides amongst active duty members and veterans alike.    Marjorie, keep up the fight. 


Nice piece.  Yes, the need is great.  We will NEVER be able to most efficiently and effectively address these problems by "dictating mandatory, ongoing proactive counseling for active-duty troops".  As a clinician, I know that mandatory ongoing counseling is not only grossly unrealistic but also grossly ineffective.  You can bring a horse to water....   As a clinical scientist who has spent a decade studying active duty and reserve component mental health there is the further issue of perceived stigma that is not necessarily irrational given the fact that if the condition is severe enough it will come to command's attention and the service member will be separated from service (and even in less severe cases there are issues with fears of obtaining security clearances, mandatory urinalysis, etc.).  From my perspective, this is a military population mental health issue that can be optimally addressed from a public health perspective.  An example, one of the strongest predictors of military suicide or postdeployment PTSD, Depression, Substance Abuse, etc. is Age.  We could prevent a substantial number of casualties by increasing the age of the those joining the armed forces.  Ok, ridiculous but effective.  How about a related but different angle.  Mandatory public service for all high school graduates...Public Health Service Corps, National/International Peace Corps, Armed Forces, etc.  This population based strategy would likely result in a number of those joining the armed forces now who are "high risk" making a different decision in the future that might place them in situations and gaining experience that is a better fit with their mental health status.  Of course, there would also be the huge impact politically once our sons and daughters are required to serve.  The ripple effects on diplomatic and national security decisions and the like would be profound and the nature of our offensive and defensive military engagements/combat operations would likely change in nature and scope, again likely reducing the extreme occupation hazards of military service and the extremely stressful (for many) deployment cycle (not simply the deployment per se).  If prevention is a potent element for addressing these invisible wounds of war, then a prevention approach is a population based public health approach.  

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Kernan Manion
Kernan Manion 1 Like


As in your very thought-provoking book, the time for taking a radically innovative approach to troop mental health is now. Your idea of a preventative, de-stigmatizing "mental health ed 101" is rich with possibility, as proven by the overwhelmingly positive feedback you got from COs when implementing your program in CA.

Yes, the time for making innovative mental health care system overhaul for active-duty troops and families a debate focus and presidential commitment focus is exactly right now. We can't let them promise the "same old same old", as the broken and fragmented system on bases everywhere needs a comprehensive overhaul, not just in delivery but in overall philosophy and approach.

Further, I think the time is now to insist that the military develop big-brother type peer-counseling programs to learn how to take more effective care of their own. And this includes vets who served and who are now broken and homeless. That would bring back much needed meaning to "Semper Fi".

Great idea on making it a presidential debate focus!



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