War and Peace of Mind: Helping America's Veterans
Compassion and Patriotism
Longer deployments mean more time before troops get that much-needed break, however. In early 2007 Army tours of duty increased from 12 to 15 months. At that time, of the 1.5 million troops who'd been deployed since September 11, 2001, 500,000 have gone at least twice, 70,000 have served three times, and 20,000 at least five times. In contrast, Dr. Romberg notes, once a draftee returned from World War II or Vietnam, his combat obligation was generally finished. "The open-ended involvement has a tremendous impact on mental health," she says.
In 2006, the Army announced, its suicide rate had risen to 17.3 per 100,000 troops -- the highest in 26 years of record keeping. The Defense Department reports that 20 percent of married soldiers were planning to separate or divorce in 2006, a 5 percent increase from 2005. The divorce rate had already nearly doubled from 2001, when about 5,600 unions ended, to 2004, with about 10,500 divorces.
"But don't think soldiers are somehow flawed," Dr. Romberg cautions. "If we send people to war, they'll have issues."
Unfortunately, military personnel may avoid psychological care as they fear looking weak, the Defense Department finds. Troops also worry that seeking help will hurt their careers, says the presidential task force, which claimed that anecdotal evidence "appears to support this concern." Whether a record of mental-health treatment affects eventual employment is uncertain, says Dr. Xenakis, who feels this may depend on what an employer asks during an application for any given job.
The military's required demobilization questionnaire seems not to provide a solution. Departing soldiers who feel they need mental-health care may deny this on the form, Dr. Romberg claims. "To get out quickly they answer 'no.'" Once home, though, if they change their minds, GAH stands ready to assist. Since it started offering services, in mid-2007, about 120 military clients have requested help.
Running GAH in her spare time is no small feat for Dr. Romberg, a single mother. "It's taken over my life in a good way," she says. "I'm energized. And my kids love what I'm doing. I see them developing both compassion and patriotism." For more, go to www.giveanhour.org.