In a recent congressional hearing, a military medical officer estimated that the stress after six years of modern military service is equivalent to the amount of stress experienced by a civilian in a lifetime. Suicides were on a record pace in the military. Post-traumatic stress is a major, significant and crippling reality for those in military service today.
Shortly after 9/11, I worked with the American Psychological Association, and we brought a concept to U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young for the treatment of stress in the military. Anticipating the psychological impact of the Middle East wars, he used congressional earmarks and his experience to help develop a model program for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder for our troops and their families. The Center for Deployment Psychology, a tri-service consortium, was born.
Now housed at the United States Uniform Health Services in Bethesda, Md., it has become the coordinating organization for a network of military internship training sites at 10 regional Department of Defense health facilities nationwide. Its mission is to provide for unmet mental and behavioral health needs of service members returning from combat and operational environments and their families.
The vision for CDP was validated in the 2007 report of the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health:
"This tri-service center is a resource and a best-practice model that illustrates how collaboration among the services can result in high-quality training material that enhances the care provided to service members and their families. Development of high-quality training materials can be accomplished through collaboration with each of the services and the DOD Center for Deployment Psychology."
Similarly, the so-called Dole-Shalala Commission, in its subcommittee report of the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, recognized the CDP as an innovative model - one of only four resources listed. The center has been flooded with requests from around the nation for assistance in preparing military and civilian psychologists to assist returning servicemen and women. Such requests have included law enforcement departments with large numbers of reservists and National Guardsmen recently returned from the war theater.
The CDP is now the training core for the DOD's new Center of Excellence on Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury and is funded by the Defense Department as an integral part of its program addressing the mental health needs of deployed servicemen and women, and the treating health professionals who work with them.
On June 24, the vice chief staff of the Army, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, reported to the Senate Armed Services Committee that suicides, although continuing to be excessive, have declined among active-duty soldiers in 2010. The CDP, although not specifically identified by Chiarelli, is an important part of the Army's concern and efforts to treat PTSD and eradicate suicides.
Since 2006 the CDP has conducted workshops and training courses for more than 10,000 mental-health professionals in 31 states. These professionals then provide care for our service members while they are deployed, when they return home and when they leave the service. Many CDP-trained professionals also care for the families of these service members as they cope with the stress and after-effects of deployment.
David S. Riggs, Ph.D., executive director of the CDP, recently reported that the providers who have been trained by the center observe that many who were struggling with the psychological effects of combat have been able to return to full military duty or productive civilian life.
Young's sponsored congressional earmarks (totaling $7 million over three congressional budgets) were used to initiate this critically needed program. The men, women and families who are sacrificing, serving and protecting our way of life have profited immeasurably.
Herbert Goldstein, Ph.D., is past chair of the Florida Board of Psychology.