COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There’s a team making sure our soldiers and our veterans have all the tools they need to succeed on the battlefield and once they come home. The Army’s Surgeon General said mental health during and after deployment is one of her team’s top priorities.
"They really see a lot of things that impact us as human beings,” said Lt. General Nadja West, the Surgeon General for the U.S. Army.
WIS caught up with her in early February as she and other leaders spoke to ROTC cadets at Fort Jackson. We asked her this question: “What are we doing to transition them (soldiers) back from being in that lethal fighting force to productive members of civilian society?”
The surgeon general offered this response, "That’s a really great question. We ask a lot of our service members. We do. And they see a lot of things that really impacts us as human beings. We’re human beings,” she said. “Our psychological makeup is that we want to be helpful to others. And when we’re asked to do things that aren’t in that realm, it can have an impact. Especially in the behavioral health realm.”
She said behavioral health is incredibly important to her team and that’s why they’ve deployed behavioral assets to units wherever they are. The first step, she said, is to release the stigma behind the need for mental health treatment.
"First thing is to normalize it – to say, ‘hey, it’s normal to hear these things.’ To increase the ability for soldiers to come forward and say, 'I need help,” said Lt. Gen. West.
She said the Army has been focusing heavily in the past few years on mental health within battalion brigade areas. They now have embedded behavioral health teams that are located within walking distance of the soldier's place of duty. The teams include social workers, a psychiatrist and a licensed practical nurse, among others.
"These are twelve member teams down with the units so they can actually spend time getting to know the soldiers, getting to know what their baseline is and being there,” she said. “If you see someone on a daily basis and you have a trust that builds there, you're more willing to talk to them."
All of this to make sure soldiers get the proactive care they need to avoid long term problems down the road. You can read more about the embedded behavioral health programs, here.