The Army's 10th Mountain Division located in Fort Drum, NY, has been the most deployed unit since the 9/11 attacks. A new report highlights an inadequate system in place at the Army base for treating soldiers with mental health issues. The report, published by the advocacy group Veterans for America, said soldiers can wait more than a month before seeing a proper health care worker.
Fort Drum is located near the Canadian border. Its remoteness and harsh winter weather doesn't exactly provide the most uplifting setting for soldiers recently back from combat tours in Iraq. Veterans for America notes this as the report begins, offering a glimpse into the setting where PTSD can begin to surface among veterans:
Generally speaking, winter conditions at Fort Drum are dreary, with snow piled high and spring still months away. More than a dozen Soldiers reported low morale, frequent DUI arrests, and rising AWOL, spousal abuse, and rates of attempted suicide. Soldiers also reported that given the financial realities of the Army, some of their fellow Soldiers had to resort to taking second jobs such as delivering pizzas to supplement their family income.
The report illustrates an atmosphere where lack of trained mental health professionals, combined with a military culture of keeping things to one's self, can leave many veterans going untreated. As the systems stands now, soldiers can easily provide false information on questionnaires designed to seek out those who need counseling. The most common way a soldier can received treatment is through self-referral. Furthermore:
In meeting with Fort Drum Soldiers, VFA found a number of disconcerting examples of inadequate mental health care at Fort Drum. Some Soldiers reported that the leader of the mental health treatment clinic at Fort Drum asked Soldiers not to discuss their mental health problems with people outside the base. Attempts to keep matters “in house” foster an atmosphere of secrecy and shame that is not conducive to proper treatment for combat-related mental health injuries.
The New York Times profiled Eli Wright, 26, an Army medic based at Fort Drum. He described common episodes of flashbacks and shot nerves as routine occurrences.
Mr. Wright said he waited weeks at Fort Drum to see a mental health professional, who diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. He was prescribed medication and pointed toward group therapy, where, he said, “half the time the group is staring at the floor.” At times, he was taking two pills at once. “I couldn’t stay awake,” he said.
A few weeks ago NPR broadcast a lengthy report in which it detailed a number of the same issues outlined in today's report. One soldier said he felt like he'd been tossed aside like a pair of worn-out boots. Last week Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker was interviewed by NPR about what was detailed in its initial story:
NPR: What do you say to these people who've had less help with their paperwork because of what you've described as a misunderstanding?
SCHOOMAKER: So far — you're giving me new information, I wasn't aware that anyone has not gotten the best advice. If anyone out there feels that they didn't get the best advice, they need to come forward and let us know about that.
Meanwhile, last Friday 19-year-old Pfc. Jack Sweet, a Fort Drum soldier, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.