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Home > Research Articles > Army Report: Mental Health Workers Needed In Combat Units

Associated Press

Sunday, November 10, 2002

November 8, 2002

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) -- Mental health workers must be assigned to combat units if the military is to head off problems like those that led to five marital murders this summer, an Army report says.

The report, released Thursday, said the killings were likely due to existing marital strife made worse by frequent separations of military families as the soldiers trained and fought. It said early intervention is the way to prevent future tragedies.

Col. Dave Orman, a psychiatrist who led the study team, said a pilot program is being created to put mental health workers in combat battalions so "the troops can access us casually."

"We're not doing what we need to be doing yet," he said. "There was a prevalent attitude that seeking behavioral health care was not career safe."

If mental health workers, now available at clinics, were in combat units, they might gain the confidence of soldiers and help them before problems escalate, he said.

The report also said getting mental health care to soldiers before serious problems develop also might dispel the attitude that seeking help is a sign of weakness.

"The bottom line is trying to create a different culture so soldiers and their families understand that seeking help is what we want you to do," said Lt. Col. Yvonne Tucker-Harris, director of the Army's family advocacy programs.

Authorities say four Fort Bragg soldiers killed their wives in June and July. Two of the men committed suicide and the other two are charged with murder. Three of those cases involved Special Operations soldiers who had served in Afghanistan.

In a fifth case, a woman is charged with murdering her husband, a major in the Army's Special Forces.

The report recommended the Defense Department study the impact of increased military operations on family stress. It also said distrust of military family care and mental health programs "may contribute in rare cases to tragedy."

It also said focus groups showed high rates of deployments at an active base like Fort Bragg contributed to marital strife. "Marital discord at Fort Bragg was prevalent theme among all focus groups," the report said.

Orman said all of the couples had troubled marriages, but none of the families sought help at any level.

The report said the anti-malaria drug Lariam, given to troops sent overseas, was unlikely to have been at fault. Side effects of the drug, also known as mefloquine, have been known to include psychotic episodes.

Work already is being done to make sure each unit actually forms a family support group when the unit deploys for training in the United States or overseas, said Col. Tad Davis, garrison commander at Fort Bragg.

About 45,000 soldiers are stationed at Fort Bragg and about 5,000 families live on base. Another 21,000 military families live in nearby communities.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.