Updated: March 4, 2010 at 12:00 am
The Army’s chief of staff Thursday praised Fort Carson’s role in Army-wide efforts to improve psychological care for battle-worn soldiers, citing the post’s changes in the wake of a series of soldier-involved slayings.
“Fort Carson, frankly, has led the way,” Gen. George W. Casey said during a visit to the post to meet with commanders and soldiers from two brigades set to deploy.
Fort Carson drew the Army’s focus after a rash of crimes committed by soldiers returning from combat. Fifteen Fort Carson soldiers have been linked to 12 slayings since 2005.
In July, military investigators released a report called the EPICON study that linked soldiers’ crimes to combat experience, substance abuse and gaps in health care. The report spurred local improvements in the way behavioral health problems are diagnosed and treated, Casey said.
“We’re getting much, much better with pre- and post-deployment assessments,” Casey said, adding that changes in the process have resulted in identifying “a lot more people that need attention.”
Fort Carson sent junior leaders to train on identifying warning signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and added hospital staff to treat troubled soldiers. Behavioral health workers have been stationed at the brigade level, allowing patients to avoid the stigma of visiting the psychiatric floor at Evans Army Hospital, a change that Casey said should be introduced Army-wide.
Those efforts are chipping away at the warrior mentality that behavioral health is for the weak.
The chief lesson that must be learned, Casey said: “The human body and the human mind wasn’t made to deal with the brutality of combat for sustained periods. It just wasn’t.”
Casey also addressed the amount of “dwell time” soldiers receive between deployments, widely considered a critical factor as soldiers labor to work through their battle stress and readjust to life at home.
Soldiers could begin seeing up to two years at home for every year in combat by 2011, assuming the troop drawdown in Iraq is finished on schedule, Casey said. Casey has long said increased dwell time is one of his top priorities, but soldiers haven’t yet seen results. His visit to Fort Carson was planned in part to meet with soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, who are set to deploy to southern Iraq this month just one year after returning home from a 15-month tour.
Asked if growing violence in Iraq could postpone the withdrawal, Casey downplayed concerns over recent bombings. Commanders in Iraq expected insurgents to launch a bloody campaign in the lead-up to Iraq’s national elections on Sunday, he said.
“Iraq’s a violent place,” he said. “I don’t think people ought to get all panicky just based on what’s happening over the last weeks and month.”
Asked about the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly, Casey said the Army won’t be able to make “informed judgments” until it learns more about what soldiers and their families think about the issue and how it will affect “military readiness.”