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Friday, May 12, 2006

AT RISK VETS NOT GETTING FOLLOW-UP MENTAL HEALTH EVALUATION, SAYS GAO

Source: Office of Lane Evans
Ranking Member of Veteran's Affairs Committee
May 11, 2006

Washington, DC---"Screening servicemembers for PTSD is absolutely the right thing to do, but if we have no confidence that those who need further mental health evaluation will actually receive it, then what purpose is it serving?" asks Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME). "The process, as it is now applied, is failing our service personnel."

Michaud, ranking Democrat on the House Veteran's Affairs Subcommittee on Health, was commenting on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study released today that found nearly 8 out of 10 servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanastan identified to be at risk of developing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder are not being referred by the Department of Defense (DoD) for follow-up mental health evaluations.

The GAO found that 178,664 OEF/OIF servicemembers who were deployed from October 1, 2001, through September 30, 2004, and who have since been discharged or released from active duty completed DoD's post-deployment screening questionnaire. Of those servicemembers, 9,145 responded positively to at least three of the four PTSD screening questions, which would be considered by mental health experts to place them at-risk for developing PTSD. GAO found that only 22% of the servicemembers who were at-risk for PTSD were referred by DoD providers for further mental health or combat stress reaction evaluation.

"When 78% of the servicemembers who are at risk of developing PTSD do not get a referral for further evaluation, then it's clear the asessment system is not working." Early assessment can prevent tragedy. Untreated PTSD can lead to substance abuse, severe depression and even suicide," said Michaud, adding, "We cannot afford to wait any longer to address this issue. This Congress needs to press both DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs to do a better job when it comes to helping veterans with PTSD and other mental health issues. I intend to introduce legislation to ensure this process is more accountable."

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