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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Who Dealt Them War and Madness 

An underappreciated friend to the troops, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, wrote the legislation that established a Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health. First order of business for the panel, when it convenes next month, will be to examine one of the Pentagon's typically farsighted and humane solutions to the problem of inadequate manpower:
Besides bringing antibiotics and painkillers, military personnel nationwide are heading back to Iraq with a cache of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications.

The psychotropic drugs are a bow to a little-discussed truth fraught with implications: Mentally ill service mem-bers are being returned to combat.

The redeployments are legal, and the service members are often eager to go. But veterans groups, lawmakers and mental-health professionals fear that the practice lacks adequate civilian oversight. They also worry that such redeployments are becoming more frequent as multiple combat tours become the norm and traumatized service members are retained out of loyalty or wartime pressures to maintain troop numbers . . . .

“We've also heard reports that doctors are being encouraged not to identify mental-health illness in our troops. I am asking for a lot of answers,” Boxer said during a March 8 telephone interview. “If people are suffering from mental-health problems, they should not be sent on the battlefield” . . . .

“I have not seen anything that says this is a good thing to use these drugs in high-stress situations. But if you are going to be going (into combat) anyway, you are better off on the meds,” said [Dr. Frank] Ochberg, a former consultant to the Secret Service and the National Security Council. “I would hope that those with major depression would not be sent.”
The AP recently reported that roughly a third of Iraq veterans receive mental health care within a year of returning home. Over 26,000 of them have been diagnosed with a mental problem.

For Iraqis, of course, it's much, much worse.

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