Wednesday, February 13, 2008

U.S. veterans face more stress and slow care

By Lisa W. Foderaro
Published: February 13, 2008

WATERTOWN, New York: The four tours in Iraq served by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which is based here at Fort Drum, have created an unusual level of stress, especially after the standard Iraq tour was increased to 15 months from 12. Yet according to a new report on the shortcomings of mental health care at the base, a soldier's wait for psychological help can take more than a month.

The draft report, "Fort Drum: A Great Burden, Inadequate Assistance," which was given to The New York Times last week, was done by Veterans for America, a nonprofit advocacy organization for wounded members of the armed forces. It also uncovered several other problems with the mental health services on the post, which is north of Syracuse.

Based on interviews with a dozen soldiers and the mental health providers on the base, the report describes problems with understaffing, a reliance on questionnaires to identify soldiers in need of treatment and a sometimes dismissive view at the company level of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The system is very much overburdened," said Jason Forrester, director of policy for Veterans for America, in an interview by telephone last week. "These problems are going to continue as long as we have units, such as the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, that have seen high-intensity combat, extended deployments and inadequate time between deployments."

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