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CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES (CSIS) CONGRESSIONAL DIALOGUE: MENTAL HEALTH IN OUR MILITARY WELCOME: LT. GEN. THEODORE STROUP (RET.), VICE PRESIDENT, EDUCATION, ASSOCIATION OF THE UNITED
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CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES (CSIS) CONGRESSIONAL DIALOGUE: MENTAL HEALTH IN OUR MILITARY WELCOME: LT. GEN. THEODORE STROUP (RET.), VICE PRESIDENT, EDUCATION, ASSOCIATION OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY MODERATOR: CLARK MURDOCK, SENIOR ADVISOR, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM, CSIS SPEAKERS: REP. MICHAEL E. MCMAHON (D-NY) REP. THOMAS J. ROONEY (R-FL) THURSDAY, MARCH 11, :00 A.M. WASHINGTON, D.C. Transcript by Federal News Service Washington, D.C. LT. GEN. (RET.) THEODORE STROUP: Well, good morning, everybody. My name is Ted Stroup and I m privileged to substitute for John Hamre and my boss, Gordon Sullivan, from our two organizations. I think they can hear me in the back, but I know you re paid to do that, so. (Laughter.) This morning, it s going to be a very interesting, intellectually stimulating session with two bipartisan leaders who, in their freshman year, have introduced some significant legislation. But I want to talk about the national treasure first. National treasure that we have today is 1.2- (1).4 million soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines on active duty and in the National Guard and in the different reserve components of the three defense services, not counting the Coast Guard Reserve. These young men and women, as the military has always been in America today, are truly national treasure. They have gone over there on a higher frequency basis than you have seen our military do in its 230-some-odd-year history. You can reflect back on your parents, your grandparents or your relatives who have been in the military and they some of them have gone for the long haul and not come home until the war was over. Others went on a one-year basis if it was during the Vietnam conflict and then further things, Haiti, the first time, Bosnia and that. And then you saw, over the last 20 years or so, an expansion of the utilization of the young men and women and their leaders and the reserve components. So the national treasure is one of the things that these two congressmen will be talking about this morning along with Secretary Murdock. But another thing you need to focus on is that besides that national treasure, young men and women in uniform, your nation has always had young men and women in uniform, probably more young men than women, if you go back more than two decades or so. America as a nation first started dealing and recognizing the problem of mental health on the battlefield after the Battle of Antietam right up the road here. History will tell you that particularly on the Union side pardon me for using that word there was great concern in the uniformed leadership of the Union Army after bloody Antietam about the impact of this horrendous combat experience on the soldiers. And then you had three types of soldiers: You had the federal soldiers; you had the soldiers from the states; and then you had the privately raised militia regiments. The impact of that battle on the Union Army was so bad that people were being discharged because they had, what then, was not called combat stress. If you look into the historical records of those regiments, you ll find that you had people that were discharged for wounds. There was another category of soldiers that were discharged for stomach problems or heart problems. Historical research has and not mine has demonstrated that those soldiers from that bloody battle were really as a result of combat shock. We fast forward through a number of other wars that our military has been in and we come to World War I. And it was in World War I that the United States and Great Britain sort of led the diagnosis of the battlefield and realized that you could save soldiers to get them back into the battle by giving them rest and respite and some type of counseling, although that was absolutely minimal. It really wasn t until World War II where the American army and I m bragging now because it was not a foreign army recognized that combat stress really was a major factor in decimating the ranks. World War I had shellshock and malingerers. World War II had its own acronym. Vietnam had its acronym. And now, we ve come up to the eight-plus years of war that our young people have been in. Psychiatry, in particular, has advanced since World War I and the focus of psychiatry on battle shock, posttraumatic stress disorder and also the impact which goes back, again, to World War I, the characterization of shellshock. Shellshock was a description of World War I from the trench warfare of the impact that the tremendous explosions that came from the very large shells fired on both sides had when they hit in the trench area. And soldiers would lose their orientation. They d have they d lose their eyesight for a period of time. They d lose their hearing, they d lose their balance and this was without any blood injuries whatsoever. And we had a number of soldiers quite a few, in fact, for that large army of Gen. Pershing s that were discharged overseas and sent home for a further discharge because of shellshock. We had treatment centers and hospital centers in France and in England that were dealing with that. And then we move, fast forward, to World War II. So American psychiatry, particularly American military psychiatry and psychology really led the world on recognizing that. Now we come to these eight years of war. The signature wound for some of our wars has been the arrow, has been the rifle shot, has been the landmine. The Army surgeon general does not like to hear me talk about the signature wound for this war that we re in now. But clearly, in our mind and in the public s mind, the signature wound is that injury that occurs within the cranium, either to the psychological makeup of the soldier or the brain injury that occurs from the explosion. So you can have young men and women that would be absolutely wounded from the standpoint of posttraumatic stress disorder which may not occur until after they ve been discharged or can occur on the battlefield. So it s been the vision of our two guest speakers from Congress this morning that we needed to get on with it. Now, Clark and I have been together in the Pentagon, off and on, and as I have worked with the Congress and experienced time with the Congress, over the years, I ve reached the conclusion that sometimes, the bureaucracy in the Pentagon or any administration just can t get it. And it takes the energy and the power and the wisdom of elected members of Congress to tell the military and that s also the Department of Defense how to get things right. Some of you in the audience may not have liked Goldwater-Nichols. That s where we met. You may not have liked some of the acquisition reform legislation that s come, but it takes a long time for the government to change and to get things right. H.R. 1305, which you ll hear about from the two co-sponsors, is one of those changes that s going to have a major positive impact on the care of our soldiers and soldiers is Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guardsmen and their families that heretofore was not available simply because of bureaucracy within any administration just couldn t deliver. Before I turn the thing over to Clark, I will tell you, also, that there are soldiers that some of us in the room know that fought with us in Vietnam that are just now experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder. That s remarkable. Gen. Riggs is in the back. He knows who I m talking about retired brigadier general unbelievable. So on an upbeat note, what you re going to hear this morning from two members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line is really a great experience of how they worked together as freshmen to develop this piece of legislation, H.R So Clark, over to you. I m fading into the back. CLARK MURDOCK: My name is Clark Murdock. I m the senior advisor here, specialize in defense issues. I m really here, actually, though, as a father. My two sons were in the Marine Reserves. My youngest son suffered from bipolar disorder, killed himself soon after he left the Marines. This is a cause whose time has come and I greatly appreciate the efforts that first of all, Mr. Rooney Tom Rooney, you know, first-term Republican congressman from Central Florida has made and Michael McMahon, first-time Democratic representative from Staten Island, New York state state where I grew up. Mr. Rooney is en route and we ll begin with Mr. McMahon. Thank you. REP. MICHAEL E. MCMAHON (D-NY): Thank you, Clark and thank you for sharing your personal experiences with us as well. It s a privilege and an honor for me to be here. I want to thank our host, Mr. John Hamre, of course, Clark and Gen. Stroup, also for that great introduction and also Cecily Hastings and Louis Lauter for inviting me here with you today. I also want to thank Tom Rooney who I ve worked with together and we know he s en route. We hope that he ll get here soon and of course all of you for coming today because this is clearly an issue of extreme importance for us as a nation. You know, many people you ll follow politics and I m sure you do all the time and this notion of partisanship and the inability of people to work together. Well, one thing that I think that Tom and I have shown that there are some issues that clearly transcend partisanship and caring our warriors who come back from battle and those who are in the service is something that you know, if we ever let partisanship get in the way of that, then we have failed and have not heeded what President Lincoln told us in his second inaugural, that it is our duty as civilians to care for him who has borne the battle and for his widow and orphan as well. And that s something that I know is emblazoned on every V.A. facility, including the one in my district. But it s also, I think, a message that should be emblazoned in every American s heart because we would not be where we are today in any way, shape or form without the sacrifice of generations of men and women who put on the uniform of our nation and went to battle abroad or here at home and kept us safe. And politically I know that quite often, politicians get wrapped up in what we should have done or shouldn t have done, what wars we should have fought and should fight. And those are decisions that we can chew over and discuss whether they were right or wrong. But anytime an American puts on the uniform of our armed services, that is the right decision and it is one that we have to do everything we can to support as civilians. Tom and I kind of met it was part of a freshman class and through orientations, we had met and when we came down and immediately were very concerned about the high rate of suicides amongst our armed services and our warriors returning from home, I met with my staff and figured out, is there anything that we could do about it? I sit inside the Green Room and I say it so much that my staff gets a little tired of hearing about it, but you know, a year-and-a-half ago, I was a city councilman in New York City. Really my main concern at that point was how does the city of New York deal with its garbage? I was the chairman of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management. If you know the history of Staten Island, with at one time, the largest landfill in the history of the world. It was an important issue. But prior to that, I had served on the staff of a great assemblywoman, Elizabeth Connelly who was the champion in New York state for changing the way that New York state dealt with those with mental health issues or developmental disabilities. Staten Island was not only the home to the largest landfill in the world, but it was also home to the Willowbrook State School, which many of you are too young to remember but Robert Kennedy and Geraldo Rivera did some great exposés on that facility. I think if you remember that, Clark, and what it exposed was that we, as a nation, did not deal with those who have mental health issues or developmental disabilities properly. And so I worked on her staff and so therefore, I tell you that just to tell you that I came to Washington very concerned about mental health issues and also, like Clark, have incidences of mental health or mental illness in my family as well. And so it s something that s always been near and dear to me. And when we saw what s going on with our soldiers, we wanted to see what we could do. So we introduced our bill and as we were preparing it, one day, Tom just kind of showed up on my door and said, hey, my staff hears from your staff that you guys are working on a screening and assessments act. Can I get involved? And he just, you know, imagine, you know, things like that you don t think that happens when you hear about the tenor in Washington. So Tom showed up and we joined on that bill. And we introduced it. And you know, we know, you guys know better than I do the statistics that are just sobering to us all and remind us that something has to be done. In 2009, no fewer than 349 service members committed suicide. Just less than a month ago, a young man in Nassau County who had done two tours of duty, a ranger who was back home visiting his family before going back to service and took the family car and went to a mall in a neighborhood and sat in his car and took his own life. And so we re very concerned about that. We re also very concerned about those who come back with the physical traumatic injury. A young man from Staten Island by the name of Brendan Marrocco who was just at the Capitol yesterday, Easter Sunday last year, was hit by an IED in Iraq and lost all four of his limbs to that event and just now is starting to recover a little bit. But you know the physical injuries are clearly manifested but we have to be concerned and make sure, as the general said, when you think about the Vietnam history, perhaps the war furthest in our time but one where still, there are clear manifestations of concern and injury, that what will happen to Brendan, we take care of his physical wounds, but will we be taking care of his psychological wounds as well? And they must clearly be there, although his courage and his stamina and his upbeat personality is unbelievable. There were some one or two senators came by to meet him yesterday and, you know, saw him and said things to him to the effect, you know, don t let it get you down, hang in there. And if you knew this young man, he must have been thinking, you know, are you kidding me? This hasn t gotten me down. Don t let it get you down, but he was gracious and kind in everything he said. So we know that the numbers are sobering. We know that the V.A. recently announced that suicide rates among 18- to 20-year-old male veterans increased 26 percent. So it s not only something we see in one year, but we see a trend over four years. That s of great concern to us. And so we also know that we have a national shortage of mental health providers in this country to begin with. And that s a problem that somewhat bedevils the armed services as well. So we introduced our bill, but at the same time, we went into the budget appropriation process last year and wrote a letter to the appropriators in our side of the House and to the Senate as well and ask them to increase the money for mental health treatment in the V.A. and in the armed services. And we got an increase of $500 million in last year s budget to deal with that. Secretary Gates, of course, was very forceful in his support of that initiative as well in his testimony. So I can t take all the credit for it by myself or with Tom. But what we can say is that it was a joint effort to do that. The problem is, is that the money went into the budget and they even adopt some of the language out of 1308, which is our bill, which basically said we re going to follow the language, which mandates screenings, both before the warriors come home and after; one-on-one settings because as you know, with any mental health issue, stigma is always a problem. Embarrassment is always a problem. And so you have to encourage people to get treatment, to ask questions about themselves and what they re feeling and what they re thinking and experiencing, but also in a discrete way because we know certainly, in everyday world, but I would think not having been but in the military world, someone s courage or strength or ability to be a warrior could be questioned if they raised their hand in a group setting and said, I think I d like to talk to somebody. So we want to make sure that that can be done discretely. What happened in the appropriation language, unfortunately, was as it was adopted was that it said we ll follow 1308, the McMahon-Rooney bill, but unless we don t have the staff to do it or unless we think we can t get it done. So they didn t adopt the mandate, if you will. And that s what we have to continue to fight for, first and foremost, is to have the mandate in the law that says that there have to be screenings and there has to be support. And it has to be done in a way that will be successful and remove the stigma. Then Tom but in a bill himself later in the year, which I was a prime co-sponsor of, which seeks to provide the staff and personnel to the military, to the armed services and to the Veterans Affairs so that they can get the job done because that s the excuse they use. I was also talking to Clark beforehand. He talked about a great initiative One Hour? MR. MURDOCK: It s Give an Hour. REP. MCMAHON: Give an Hour a week because I also know back in my district, mental health professionals, drug counselors, alcohol counselors have said to me, gee, we would love to help in any way we can. Is there a way to do that? So maybe we have to somehow bring about some volunteer efforts as well. If the military cannot staff the slots that are needed, maybe there has to be some sort of a public-private partnership that makes sure that we get that done. You know, suicide may not always be preventable but certainly any of those who have faced it in their families or know we know as leaders in this country, that quite often, perhaps we can. And intervention is certainly the way to do it, and counseling and treatment. And so that s what we will continue to fight for as we go forward. We know that the V.A. is on the verge of increasing its mental health staff but we need to get it to move more expeditiously. The Obama administration has done, I think, a commendable, laudable job in providing resources to the V.A. As I said, I have a major facility in my district. And even amongst the men and women who go there, they feel that, for the first time in a long time, they are getting the treatment and attention they need and deserve. But we have to do more, and certainly in this area. We will continue to work together, Tom and I, and I hope he can get here soon, but his experience both as a veteran and from a different part of the country and a different party affiliation, I think, makes our case even stronger, and we are working on the Senate side, as well. So basically, I thank you all for coming and look forward to your questions, and we ll try to answer them the best we can. MR. MURDOCK: Thank you. Mr. Rooney hopes to get here by the end. I think we ll start the question period now so that we can have an exchange with the audience before Mr. Rooney comes, and perhaps he can make some comments at the very end of the session, as well. First of all, as I said, I really applaud the effort that you and Mr. Rooney are making in this area. I wonder, do you have some sense that if you make TRICARE if as a result of your legislation, TRICARE becomes as open as some private insurances for the provision of mental health services, what impact that will have upon TRICARE s budget, for example? REP. MCMAHON: You know, I think that the budget issues are something that, you know, are more easily resolvable than the reticence on behalf of the DOD and the V.A. to follow ma
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