Sergeant Major of the Army Recounts How He Overcame PTSD: IoM Report Calls for Annual Screening by DoD

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON —Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III said he was faced with his “own mortality” in Iraq in 2004, when a rocket blew up in the room where he was.

At first, Chandler recounted, he was ashamed of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that followed the attack. But then, “I spent about two years in almost weekly behavioral healthcare counseling in Fort Bliss, TX, and that care by those committed individuals and by the folks I worked with made a significant change in my life.”

Chandler’s keynote address on the third annual National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day in late June underscored that PTSD can affect anyone and does not necessarily damage military-career prospects.

The commemoration, marked this year by a ceremony on Capitol Hill, was created by a congressional resolution that calls for designating June 27 to raise public awareness about issues related to PTSD and reduce its associated stigma.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III spoke about his experience with PTSD at an event held in commemortaion of National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day.

“Military medicine and the Department of Defense must remain prepared to assist our men and women. We have the collective responsibility to raise national awareness regarding post-traumatic stress. We know, with the right treatment, most will go on to live productive and fulfilling lives,” Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, RN, said at the event organized by the Code of Support Foundation and Honor for All.

At the event, military leaders urged troops to seek out care and, as has become more common in recent years, gave examples of how they also have struggled.

Chandler’s positive treatment experience was not unusual, according to Air Force Surgeon Lt. Gen. Charles B. Green, MD, who said that, “contrary to popular understanding, PTSD is treatable, and over 75% return to full duty and normal healthy lives.”

IoM Report

A few weeks after the event, a congressionally mandated report from the Institute of Medicine called for DoD to annually screen servicemembers for PTSD, as is now done at the VA.

The IoM report, which called on both DoD and VA to improve timely access to evidence-based care for PTSD sufferers, noted that, of U.S. troops screening positive for PTSD after deployment to Iraq and/or Afghanistan, about 40% percent have received a referral for additional evaluation or treatment. Of those referred, according to the report, only 65% actually receive treatment.

In addition to broadening patients’ access to care, DOD and VA should support better research on optimal PTSD treatments and improve tracking of outcomes. Included in that, report authors wrote, should be rigorous evaluation of complementary and alternative therapies.

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