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Originally published July 20, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 20, 2009 at 10:28 AM

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Senate bill seeks mental-health screening for troops

In an attempt to reduce suicides among combat veterans, a bill pending in the U.S. Senate would expand mental-health monitoring of those who fight our nation's wars.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Resources

If you or a family member needs help with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental-health problems, the following organizations can provide assistance:

VA Puget Sound Health Care System

206-277-4369 in Seattle

253-583-1609 in American Lake, Pierce County

For help with traumatic brain injury: 206-277-6696

Vet Centers

Seattle: 206-553-2706 (readjustment counseling)

Tacoma: 253-565-7038 (readjustment counseling)

Washington State Department

of Veterans Affairs

This agency contracts with a statewide network of counselors whose services are free to qualified veterans.

For a list of providers:

www.dva.wa.gov/ptsd_contractors.html

You may also leave a message with Thomas Schumacher, state program director, at

360-725-2226 or 888-320-0512 (pager).

King County Veterans Program also has a network of providers.

For more information:

206-296-7656

www.kingcounty.gov/socialservices/veterans.aspx

Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury have emerged as two signature injuries of the Iraq war, and the nation's mental-health system will be grappling with needs of returning veterans and their families for years to come.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, sleeplessness and depression. A Department of Veterans Affairs study released last week found that 38 percent of more than 280,000 Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans who sought VA treatment received mental-health diagnoses. More than 60 percent of those diagnoses were for PTSD.

Traumatic brain injury includes severe mental impairments from penetrating wounds to the head.

Doctors are documenting much more widespread, milder symptoms of headaches, memory loss, irritability and balance problems from exposure to blasts. In a 22-month study of 13,440 Fort Carson, Colo., soldiers returning from the Middle East, 18 percent suffered from at least a mild form of traumatic brain injury.

In an attempt to reduce suicides among combat veterans, a bill pending in the Senate would expand mental-health monitoring of those who fight our nation's wars.

The bill would require all active-duty soldiers and reservists to be evaluated by a mental-health professional before deploying to a war zone, after their return and before they head back to combat.

"When I hear of young men and women whose life is ended too soon or who have to silently battle behavioral-health issues, it absolutely devastates me," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who submitted the legislation, along with 16 co-sponsors.

The bill has its origins in the 2007 suicide of Chris Dana, a Montana National Guard veteran who took his life 18 months after returning from Iraq. His death stunned the Montana National Guard, prompting the state to institute an extensive screening effort that became a model for the national bill.

A CBS News investigation last year found that suicide rates among veterans ages 20 to 24 were estimated at more than twice that of the general population in the same age group.

Among active-duty military personnel, the Army last year reported a record rate of 20.2 suicides per 100,000 soldiers, and suicides this year are on pace to push the rate even higher.

The Baucus bill seeks to identify combat veterans with post-traumatic-stress disorder, suicidal tendencies and other mental-health concerns, and to help them find medical treatment. The evaluations by Defense Department mental-health professionals or contractors would involve either face-to-face sessions or long-distance tools that permit video conferencing.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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