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Soldiers put face on health concerns for Defense Health Board

TACOMA, Wash. — The Defense Health Board met in Tacoma to discuss health concerns facing service members, but the board members didn’t stick to briefs and slideshows. The group also took the time to get information from actual Soldiers.

The board, which meets about four times a year, makes recommendations on health policy to the secretary of defense.

The group met Aug. 9 for a regularly scheduled meeting, and took advantage of the time near Joint Base Lewis-McChord to meet with Soldiers and tour Madigan Army Medical Center the following day.

Part of the all-day conference included panel discussions with JBLM Soldiers focused on improving and de-stigmatizing behavioral health overseas and in garrison.

Suicide rates are up across the Army and Madigan Healthcare System had 92,919 behavioral health visits in the past year, a sharp increase from the year before.

“We’ve had this huge spike, and now what we’re doing is we’re tracking to see what that volume does,” Madigan commander, Col. (Dr.) Dallas Homas, said in his presentation to the board.

Some of the increase is linked to troops redeploying, and Homas pointed out that a greater number of visits indicates that the stigma is beginning to disappear. However, the issue is as important as ever, and a top priority for Madigan and Western Region Medical Command.

A panel of five company commanders answered board members’ questions about Soldiers’ access to and comfort using behavioral health services downrange and the challenges they face as leaders.

Among these were issues with the Post-Deployment Health Reassessment. Several of the commanders said Soldiers will select the right answer over the real one just to get home more quickly. The panel of commanders expressed concern that with no face-to-face interaction.

Board members were also interested in whether an officer looking forward to a full 20 years in the Army would be likely to seek treatment for behavioral health concerns. Studies have shown company grade officers have lingering problems with stigmatization.

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