Army helps deployed soldiers cope with PTSD

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When a soldier is deployed into a place of combat, dealing with separation from familiar surroundings and loved ones may be difficult. To get through the especially trying times, soldiers have an abundance of resources made available to them by the Army – both on base and while they are deployed.

According to the 2016 “Army Posture Statement,” the Army has approximately 190,000 soldiers deployed to 140 countries.

Business Insider, a news website, compiled statistics from various publications and reports that a large number of Army soldiers are spread across Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Poland.

While deployed, soldiers experience many combat stressors such as seeing dead bodies, being shot at and attacked, and knowing someone who was killed or seriously injured.

According to The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), almost 14 percent of troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and are at risk for other mental health problems. This percentage is similar to Vietnam theater Veterans (12 percent) and Gulf War Veterans (10 percent) who suffer from PTSD.

The VA describes PTSD as a “mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event.” PTSD symptoms can manifest in numerous ways, such as through flashbacks, negative feelings, depression and anxiety.

Although PTSD has the potential to affect anyone, soldiers in the military are more susceptible to PTSD because of the high frequency of traumatic events that occur in areas of combat.

To resolve these kinds of mental health issues and help soldiers cope with being deployed, the Army provides numerous programs and services to soldiers, at no cost. Additionally, because mental health does not only affect the soldiers themselves, there are many programs that include, and are specifically for, family members.

Antonio Cassagnol, program manager for the Mobilization, Deployment, Sustainment Operations, and Readiness program at the Fort Bliss Army Base, said there are many support resources available to soldiers.

“We prepare families, soldier members, and family members for…deployment, actual deployment, and redeployment, when soldiers actually come back from their mission,” Cassagnol said.

Most of this preparation occurs through a mandatory pre-deployment briefing that family members are encouraged to attend, and is facilitated within a 90-day window of the actual departure. This briefing is meant to ease worry and anxiety about deployment so that soldiers can better focus on their combat mission while in the field. Topics include legal information on drafting wills and power of attorneys, as well as recreational and learning programs for children, financial readiness for families, and Master Resilience Training.

Master Resilience Training is a 10-day course that teaches soldiers and their spouses different skills that will help develop six competencies that enhance resilience. According to the program, the competencies that allow a soldier to “bounce back from adversity,” are self-awareness, self-regulation, optimism, mental agility, strengths of character, and connection [to others].”

A Teen Resilience program is also offered.

Even after deployment a soldier can still receive help from Army Medicine through a program called Tele-Behavioral Health (TBH). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”

A few ways that TBH is currently being used for is psychotherapy, redeployment screenings, and medication management via secure clinical video-teleconferencing systems.

Malcolm Carlyle, a technical instructor/trainer at the Medical Simulation Training Center on Fort Bliss and former Army medic, had first-hand experience in helping soldiers with mental health issues when he was deployed to Iraq from 2005-06 and again from 2009-10.

“If somebody came into the aid station [a battalion’s medical treatment center]and was having a mental health issue, we could get them out to see the right channels [behavioral health services]…We would always try and be there,” Carlyle said.

Sgt. Jacob Holmes, a broadcast journalist with the 24th Press Camp Headquarters, visited a behavioral health specialist and was able to get the help he needed when he was deployed. Holmes was deployed for two years as a combat soldier in Iraq from 2008-09 and 2010-11.

“I had trouble sleeping due to the high stress that we were in,” Holmes said. ”I talked to people, worked through it, got on medication for a small bit of time, but then I was able to deal with it myself.”

In addition to aid stations and behavioral health specialists during combat deployment, Carlyle said that most of the units will have medics assigned to them and it is their job to look out for soldiers physical and mental wellbeing. If for some reason the medics are not able to provide support to members of their unit, every soldier also receives Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training to help them recognize if a fellow soldier is exhibiting signs or thinking about hurting themselves or others.

“It’s never going to be an easy experience to be away from your family,” Carlyle said. “Everybody has a mental breaking point. I don’t care how tough you think you are – at some point, you’re just going to give out.”

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