Military keeps distressed soldiers at combat site

Sgt. Thomas Riordan didn’t want to return to Afghanistan after home leave. He had just fought through a battle that killed eight soldiers, and when he arrived home his wife said she was leaving. He almost killed himself that night.  When his psychologist asked what he thought he should do, Riordan said: Stay in Colorado at Fort Carson.  Instead, the military brought Riordan back to this base in the eastern Afghan mountains, where mortar rounds sound regularly and soldiers have to wear flack jackets if they step outside their barracks before 8 a.m., even to go to the bathroom.

Increasingly, the army is trying to treat traumatized soldiers “in theater” — where they’re stationed. The idea is that soldiers will heal best if kept with those who understand what they’ve been through, rather than being dumped into a treatment center back in the States where they’ll be surrounded by unfamiliar people and untethered from their work and routine.   However, the policy may serve the military at least as much as the soldiers. Treating soldiers on site makes it easier to send them back into battle — key for a stretched military fighting two wars. It also brings up a host of challenges: Ensuring soldiers get the treatment they need in the middle of war, monitoring those on antidepressants and sleeping pills, and deciding who can be kept in a war zone and who might snap.

“There’s not been a lot of studies on those types of interventions,” said Terri Tanielian, a military health policy researcher with the RAND Corp. think tank. “There isn’t necessarily a magic formula that says who’s going to go back and be okay and who isn’t.”   Riordan acknowledges that in-theater treatment has helped a lot of his fellow soldiers, but says it’s never been enough at the right time or place for him. Through all the psychologists, psychiatrists, medications and brain scans, he just feels more alone.  In Afghanistan, Riordan cannot go outside the wire because he’s considered too unstable. He has no friends in his unit. He goes to a larger base every month or so to meet with his psychologist, who also checks in on him when she’s doing helicopter rounds to various outposts.

“All my real support is back in the States,” he says. “Just to call someone up and say ‘Hey, I’m bummed out,’ you’ve got to put on the proper uniform and walk two football fields down to the phones and wait in a line, and then hope that someone answers on the other side.”  The 5,000 troops that make up Task Force Mountain Warrior — which includes the Fort Carson soldiers — are served by a psychologist, a psychiatrist and two social workers. Collectively known to soldiers as “Combat Stress” — as in, “I had to go see Combat Stress” — this four-person team makes the rounds to about 30 bases. They arrive after any potential trauma: the death of a soldier, an arduous battle or a large roadside bombing.


DrBev is a National Certified Counselor, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and a Certified Gestalt Psychotherapist, Seminar - WorkShop Facilitator, Radio Personality, Author and President and Educational Director of DrBev Mental Health Counseling.
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  1. Posted September 4, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Hi Dr. Bev, looks like we will need to connect again at Village Inn, I am that ugly guy with the beautiful Black n Tan Doberman Pinscher named Porsche.

    When can we really meet 1 on 1

    Sgt. Mike Halley USMC

  2. Dr Bev
    Posted September 5, 2010 at 3:32 am | Permalink

    Marine, of course I remember that handsome guy and his beautiful wife who brought Porsche to visit the Annex. Send me a private message on linkin or facebook, or email and we can arrange getting together. I look forward to our discussion of how we can utilize our programs for the shared common good “Returning Military Personnel” . DrBev

  3. "Doc" Willey
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Hi Dr. Bev. just wanted to drop you a line and let you know what apleasure it was to meet you at the Village Inn last night.Your insight into the troubles a homeward bound soldier as well as a old vet faces with PTSD was very encouraging to me.It shows me that there are those out there that care.
    Even though I have have had this disability for almost 40 years I am a newbie to it and just beginning to grasp some control over it,instead of it controling me.
    I look forward to following your blogs and will let you know of my progress with my service dog Maddie if you are interested.
    Thank you for caring.

  4. Dr Bev
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Doc, meeting you and your wife was a heartfelt experience for me. I wish you all to ‘goodness’ you will allow. Know that I am here for you/wife always.

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