WASHINGTON – The U.S. Army plans to begin a program today to educate every soldier about traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. The rare effort to break the cultural stigma within the military about mental health problems comes as more troops return from battle with serious but undiagnosed issues.
Senior Army leaders are using a “chain-teaching” method to reach all U.S. soldiers, including more than 150,000 who are facing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, within 90 days. Such a technique involves a top-down approach, with commanders educating their subordinates, extending down the chain of command until individual soldiers are taught by their platoon leaders.
Lt. Gen. James Campbell, director of the Army Staff, said Tuesday that the impetus is a growing recognition that brain injuries and mental trauma are real problems that impact soldiers, their families and the general readiness of the Army. But many soldiers have been reluctant to seek help because of a perceived stigma, he said, and others have fallen through the system’s cracks and been overlooked.
“We want to try to educate our soldiers and our leaders … to be able to recognize the symptoms and then to be aware of the treatment options that are available,” Campbell said. “There is a huge culture issue here, and it is this: That those leaders or soldiers who seek help could be perceived as being weak. And the whole thrust behind this program is that, if you are in fact someone who needs help, that your desire to get that help is not perceived as a weakness but rather as a strength, as a personal courage to do it.”
Much of the training centers on a 35-page guide that commanders will use to show videos and slide shows and to answer questions, including how to notice symptoms of hard-to-detect mild brain injuries such as concussions and the warning signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Army officials hope that the training will increase the number of reported cases of such problems as soldiers grow more comfortable seeking help for nightmares, flashbacks and emotional withdrawal.
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