America’s military needs to do a better job in seeing that current service members get the help they need to deal with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
A new study by the Rand Corp. of nearly 39,000 service personnel found that only 30 percent of those diagnosed with depression and 54 percent with PTSD at risk of suicide received appropriate follow-up care.
The need for action on this issue has been clear for a long while, given the troubling increase in suicides by U.S. military veterans. Since 2001, the rate is up by 35 percent.
Veterans made up about 8.5 percent of the U.S. population in 2014 but accounted for 18 percent of suicides.
The Rand study — which the Pentagon, to its credit, had requested — did contain positive news on several scores: The military health system did well in screening for suicide risk and for alcohol and substance abuse. Timely follow-ups were done for service members discharged from psychiatric inpatient care.
The central failure involved inadequate follow-ups, in many cases, to provide treatment for depression or PTSD. In addition to seeing that evidence-based therapy is provided, the report said, the military health system needs to end the prescription of inappropriate drugs. A third of PTSD patients at risk of suicide received prescriptions for drugs, including Xanax or Valium, that either provide no help or worsen PTSD, the report said.
It’s been encouraging in recent years to see increased public attention to the mental health challenges of service personnel and veterans, with some steps taken to tackle the problem. But much more needs to be done.
The new report identifies important improvements to be taken. The Pentagon needs to follow up energetically.