Three Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigades are returning home from war this year, and Madigan Army Medical Center will temporarily expand its behavioral-health staff and implement new screening programs to deal with the mental-health issues of deployment.
Hospital staff will be paying particular attention to 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which has lost 35 soldiers and seen frequent combat since it deployed to southern Afghanistan last July.
Piggybacking off post-deployment programs already in place, Madigan officials will collect additional behavioral-health information and screen them again shortly after they return home.
“It’s no surprise the Army is searching for the right answer for this: How do you take care of soldiers and families during this whole cycle?” said Col. Mark Thompson, the hospital’s deputy commander for clinical services.
Before each brigade returns to Lewis-McChord, platoon leaders and platoon sergeants will answer a questionnaire on each soldier that looks for potential mental-health issues. Questions will cover issues like financial stability and talks of killing one’s self or another.
The questionnaire is in addition to the Army’s standard Post-Deployment Health Assessment form. Platoon leaders and sergeants were tasked with administering the questionnaire because they’re in a position to best know their soldiers on a personal level, Thompson said. A platoon in a Stryker brigade has about 30 soldiers.
Less than two weeks after soldiers assigned to 5th Brigade return, each will meet with a behavioral-health provider for a 20-minute, one-on-one session. The provider will often be a psychologist, but some soldiers will meet with psychiatrists or social workers.
The care providers will both screen for potential problems but also talk about larger wellness and resiliency issues, Thompson said.
“Some of the focus of the interview is to say, ‘Here are some hurdles you might face, and here are some coping strategies,’” he said.
The process should take about three weeks for an entire brigade and require about 30 health-care providers, some of whom will be assigned from other Army medical facilities to Madigan on a temporary duty to deal with the influx.
For soldiers of the base’s other two Stryker brigades, both of which are deployed to Iraq, the meeting with the behavioral-health provider will be in a group setting of about 30 soldiers, Thompson said.
It’s little surprise hospital officials will be focusing most intently on 5th Brigade. The unit, the first Stryker brigade deployed to Afghanistan, was sent into Kandahar and neighboring provinces to reassert American control of the battlespace. Ambushes and bomb attacks have been a near-daily occurrence for many of the brigade’s soldiers.
Post-traumatic stress symptoms sometimes don’t surface for weeks or months after a soldier returns home. The program could be more effective if it was pushed back to a later date after the return. But that could cut into block leave, when most of the unit takes off at the same time.
“But there’s a balance with folks wanting to go on block leave and deserving to go on block leave,” he said.
Each soldier also receive briefings about other available programs and will go through another assessment 3-6 months after returning home.
The 900 soldiers of I Corps who returned home last month have gone through the process successfully, Thompson said. And Madigan is able to offer such programs because it’s one of the Army’s largest hospitals and is stationed on a base with one of the largest concentrations of combat soldiers.
“It’s the only place in the Army where this mix exists,” he said.