If the sheer volume of returning service men and women in crisis is not compelling enough reason for community-based mental health providers to join their military counterparts in the battle against post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, the opportunity to wear fatigues to work just might be.
“The uniforms have lots of pockets and you don’t have to shine your boots,” quipped Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, M.D., M.P.H., the director of behavioral health proponency in the Office of the U.S. Army Surgeon General.
Clad in Army camouflage, Col. Ritchie made an impassioned recruitment pitch to clinicians and researchers attending a conference sponsored by Massachusetts General Hospital over the weekend titled “Complexities and Challenges of PTSD and TBI.”
In order to meet the increasing mental health needs of soldiers returning from Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom), “we have to partner with the community,” she said. While stressing that the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense have implemented programs focused on mental health risk assessment, resiliency building, and treatment accessibility, the demand for available services far outpaces the military’s supply. In other words, she said, “We need YOU.”
And if you don’t want to wear a uniform, “there are a variety of different ways to come in,” Col Ritchie stressed. “For example, we’ve been working very closely with the U.S. Public Health Service, which is now giving us [mental health] providers at our facilities, so you could join the PHS,” she said. Or, at the very least, she urged attendees to sign up for TRICARE, the contracted health care plan for service members and their families. “I know TRICARE is not an easy system to live with, but registering for it can let us get soldiers to you.”
The bottom line, Col. Ritchie stated, is that the U.S. military is at a crossroads with respect to meeting service members’ mental health needs “All of the low-hanging fruit has been picked,” she said. In order to meet the continuing challenges and to forge ahead, “we need to engage in a national dialogue, including the civilian community.”