Military mental health services lack personnel and money to properly treat a growing number of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, said a Pentagon report out Friday.
"The military system does not have enough resources, funding or personnel to adequately support the psychological health of service members and their families in peace and during conflict," concluded a year-long Pentagon mental health task force report: "An Achievable Vision."
Studies of troops three and four months after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan showed 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of Marines suffered psychological symptoms. The problems increase as troops are repeatedly deployed, the study said.
A study published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health said that returning fighters are twice as likely to commit suicide as civilians. Most at risk are soldiers seriously wounded in combat or who have suffered psychological trauma during their deployments.
To meet these needs, the authors of the new Pentagon report recommend increasing the level of care without estimating how much money or how many specialists would be needed. "Mental health professionals are not sufficiently accessible to service members and their families," one of the report's authors, vice admiral Donald Arthur, told reporters.
The stigma associated with mental health care is high enough to be a barrier to seeking care, the report said. "Post-traumatic stress -- combat stress -- is an absolutely normal reaction to a very abnormal situation," Arthur said. "It's not 90 minutes of show with 30 minutes of commercials and the good guy wins in the end.
You have a real chance of being seriously injured or killed in your service to your nation," he said. For prevention, he said, "We recommend that we continue and increase the embedding of psychological health professionals into the line units that deploy."
"We recommend that there be more availability of mental health professionals for active duty and family members," Arthur said.