By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 3, 2009 - Improving mental health care for servicemembers and veterans requires a coordinated effort beyond health care providers and the military community, the Pentagon's top mental health expert said here today. Opening the second Warrior Resilience Conference, Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Loree K. Sutton, director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, asked the more than 400 attendees to learn from each other and the presenters as the military looks for the best way to build psychological resilience in the force.
The conference brings together line supervisors, clinicians, care providers and experts from around the United States to deal with the signature psychological injuries of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
The general set the tone early about the scope of the problem. "As a nation, we have never asked so much from so few on behalf of so many," Sutton said. "Failure is not an option. The needs of our warriors, our veterans, their family members, must come first."
Candor, transparency, speed, and accountability are non-negotiable virtues for treating those in the field. Results – real, measurable results – must guide the effort as it moves forward, she said.
"And we must work as a team," she added. "This is not about competition."
Sutton joked that her office, which serves as a clearinghouse for treatments, steals the good ideas of others. "Yes. Of course we do!" she said. "We exist so we can look over the horizon and we can dig into the other agencies.
"It is our privilege to leave no stone unturned in finding leading practices and promising principles ... so we can catalyze new knowledge and action and we can accelerate positive change," Sutton said as she called for a Manhattan Project-type of national unity and effort to help those most affected.
The invisible wounds of war are a public health challenge, Sutton said, and the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are not the sole owners of the effort. People and communities across the United States have to participate as well, said the general added.
And the movement in support of psychological health is not limited to mental health professionals, Sutton said. Members of faith communities, business communities, schools and employers also must be involved with treatment and must work together to ensure that servicemembers and their families get the help they need, she told the conferees.
The use of the reserve components in the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan means that men and women from almost every community in the United States are doing their part, the general said. But because they don't live on or near a military installation, they may not be getting the support they need. She asked that all at the conference look for ways to reach out to these people.
U.S. troops and their families understand resilience in a way that most Americans don't, Sutton said. "They know what's important: relationships, families, connections," she said. The conference mission is to help troops and families strengthen that resilience, she said, adding that the effort will require a new outlook for the military.
"If we fail to transform our culture, we will have missed the boat," Sutton said. "This 'suck-it-up' [military] culture yields a vulnerability that places our health, our safety, our security, our families and our futures at risk. To prevail, leaders at all levels must work together to build strength through nurturing, connection, trust, courage and resilience."