Push for National Guard PTSD treatment advances in Oklahoma
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma must bridge a gap in mental and physical trauma treatment for its 10,000 National Guard members, a state senator told a Senate panel Wednesday.
The Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee approved without opposition a proposal from Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, that calls for training guard members’ caregivers to better treat post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
“I’ve got a concern that others have brought to me that we are not doing enough to provide the full attention that those National Guard members need and certainly deserve,” Crain told The Associated Press after the hearing. “We want to make sure that people that are providing care to those National Guard members have the training, have the support, know what resources are available.”
Specifically, Crain’s bill calls on the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s medical advisory committee to launch and oversee pilot training programs for caretakers, even if they’re simply family members or neighbors of guardsmen.
According to Pentagon data, more veterans died by suicide than in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan last year, a years-long trend that has intensified interest in military mental health screening and treatment. Multiple studies also have found National Guard members are especially at risk for PTSD and other mental health problems.
“Because National Guard soldiers return to civilian status following their deployment, they do not have the same uninterrupted access to military medical care as Active Component soldiers,” researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research wrote in a June 2010 study on PTSD among returning active and reserve Iraq veterans.
The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, also pointed to other differences, including stress from reintegrating into the civilian workforce after combat.
Lt. Col. Max Moss, a spokesman for the Oklahoma National Guard, called the proposal “promising.” He said 19 guardsmen had been killed in combat and almost as many — 16 — had died from suicide since 2001. Nine of those suicides were within the previous two years, pushing the Guard to increase its mental health efforts, but it doesn’t appear PTSD or combat were consistently the cause of those deaths, Moss said.
He said the proposal would be helpful for guardsmen who experience PTSD symptoms — which can take months to surface — after leaving the military system.
“If you walk into a military hospital, that’s going to be one of the first things they ask about and look for,” Moss said. “What I think is promising about this particular bill is that it will help train members of the civilian medical community to be more aware of the symptomology around PTSD and traumatic brain injury.”
Whatever the causes of mental health concerns among guardsmen, addressing them falls to the states, Crain said.
“We want to make sure those citizen-soldiers are given every opportunity” to get help, he said.