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Efforts Lag to Improve Care for National Guard

The Washington Post: By Lauren Everitt, Andrew Theen and Gulnaz Saiyed, Published: February 14 Despite years of efforts to improve health care and support networks for the National Guard and military reserves, these service members report higher rates of mental health problems and related ills than active-duty troops, according to current and former officials, troops, experts and government studies. More than 665,000 National Guard and reserve troops — known collectively as the reserve component — have served in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past decade. Upon returning home, many have been hastily channeled through a post-deployment process that has been plagued with difficulties, including a reliance on self-reporting to identify health problems, the officials and experts say. Ten Medill graduate students selected for a special three-month investigative project examined the issue of how the military health care system works for the National Guard and Reserve, a system largely run by contractors. Hidden Surge is supported by the McCormick Foundation, which awarded scholarships to the students to work on the second annual project of the Medill School of Journalism’s National Security Journalism Initiative, which aims to be a resource for those reporting on national security issues. See the full project at hiddensurge.org » New research and interviews with those familiar with the military health-care system suggest that attempts by Congress, the military and private contractors to address the problems have been uncoordinated and often ineffective. From September 2010 to August 2011, post-deployment health-reassessment screenings found that nearly 17 in every 100 returning reservists had mental health problems that were serious enough to require a follow-up. That is 55 percent more likely than active-component service members, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center. Active-duty troops come home to military bases with free, comprehensive medical care and support networks that help diagnose what military leaders call the signature wounds of the wars that began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Reservists do not have access to the same system or networks that experts say are needed to assess and treat their injuries. After brief demobilization assessments, reserve troops return home and must navigate disparate health-care and support providers, often without the psychological safety net that comes from living near members of their unit. “The National Guard faces unique challenges compared to our active-duty counterparts,” Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau — which is responsible for administering the guard’s 54 state and territorial units — said at a public forum in November. He said the Obama administration is increasing its efforts to address resulting problems, including substance abuse, depression, PTSD and suicide. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, who retired on Feb. 1 as Army vice chief of staff, also said efforts are underway to provide better care for reservists, especially because they are an integral part of the nation’s operational fighting force. “A National Guard soldier .?.?. has anywhere from 10 to 14 days of demobilization training and processing, and then we throw them back into their community to work with folks who are part of the 99 percent who never fought,” Chiarelli said. These communities often can’t relate to their military experiences, he said, leading to job and family friction. Reserve members and their advocates have raised concerns about the system of care and support since shortly after they were mobilized to fight overseas after the Sept. 11 attacks. But they say the consequences of inadequate post-deployment efforts persist. To read the rest of the article… http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/efforts-lag-to-improve-care-for-national-guard/2012/02/04/gIQAymEWER_story.html