The Army is making a "dramatic turn" in how it handles soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, a member of a veterans' group investigating mental health care at Fort Carson said Wednesday.
Following two days of closed-door meetings with commanders and congressional staffers at the post, Steve Robinson, Director of Veterans Affairs for the group Veterans for America, said commanders have agreed to do a better job educating officers about the condition and take steps to amend the records of soldiers who have been wrongly diagnosed.
"I believe the Army has made a dramatic turn. ... I think we're going to see a cultural sea change and I think we just have to continue to monitor it to make sure that it happens," Robinson said in a conference call with reporters.
More medical and case workers will be needed to help the Army treat soldiers, Robinson said, noting the problems at Fort Carson are being seen across the military.
Soldiers working with the advocacy group who have been diagnosed with PTSD say they haven't been given enough one-on-one counseling to recover and that the Army, instead, has offered to diagnose them with a personality disorder to give them a quicker, honorable discharge. But personality disorders are considered a pre-existing condition, cutting them off from military health coverage and possibly making it harder to find a job.
Robinson's group claims that some soldiers have been criticized for their job performance despite getting inadequate treatment.
Robinson said commanders have agreed to take "corrective action" against those who have taken wrong actions in dealing with soldiers with mental health problems. Fort Carson spokeswoman Karen Linne confirmed that but declined further comment on the meetings.
Robinson also said 4th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Jeffrey W. Hammond agreed to review the records of about 40 former soldiers who believe their discharges were mishandled and, if he agrees, Fort Carson will send letters to help them amend their records so they can restore their benefits.
Problems range from soldiers being misdiagnosed with personality disorders to others who were dishonorably discharged for substance abuse without being offered treatment first, he said.
Robinson said Hammond's pledge came during a meeting with him on Tuesday. Linne said she had no knowledge of it and said it was not discussed at a final briefing for the veterans' advocates, congressional staffers and commanders who attended the meetings.
Spc. Alex Lotero, who participated in the meetings, said he was diagnosed with PTSD in November after serving in Iraq. He said he gets a casual, half-hour monthly session with a therapist and gave up going to recommended group therapy meetings. He said they were mostly a time for people to complain about problems with their unit.
Lotero said he has been told to take a personality disorder discharge. "I am not going to get kicked out of the Army with nothing," he said.
Pvt. Nicholas Guess, a medic who also participated in the meetings, said he was diagnosed with PTSD after his first deployment to Iraq. He said he wasn't prepared for his second deployment, where he worked treating wounded soldiers in Baghdad.
"I was blind walking into that place. There's nothing you can do to prepare for that," said Guess, who said he sometimes feels "helpless" as he takes four medications and has trouble remembering things.
Connie Best, a clinical psychologist at the Medical University of South Carolina working with the veterans group, said treating PTSD requires personal counseling addressing the specific traumatic events that caused the problem. A person with PTSD initially would need an hour or more of weekly counseling and, while that takes time, Best said the condition can be more easily treated than a personality disorder, which she said can really only be managed.
"The good news about PTSD is, if you get proper treatment, you can get people back to shape and reduce their symptoms," she said.
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