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Defense launches mental health portal for vets

The Defense Department's Military Health System launched on Aug. 5 a behavioral health Web portal that will allow service members to anonymously seek mental health treatments for maladies such as combat stress and post-traumatic stress disorder in what the agency called a "stigma free" environment.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The shame and fear associated with seeking mental health treatment is the primary reason veterans avoid seeing care, according to a study of Iraq veterans with the Army National Guard published in October 2007 by Dr. Tracy Stecker, a psychologist at the Veterans Affairs Department.

Dr. Joseph Pursch, a former Navy psychiatrist and flight surgeon, said despite the best efforts by Defense to remove the stigma associated with PTSD, it still has an influence "when it comes to the promotion board."

Pursch ran the alcohol rehabilitation service at the Naval Regional Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif., when former First Lady Betty Ford sought treatment for alcoholism in 1978. He said any kind of help for combat stress that is offered anonymously, even on the Web, "is a good first step" in developing a treatment program that does not jeopardizea career.

In May, Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged the difficulty the department faced in removing the stigma that is associated with PTSD and the need to encourage service members to seek treatment. About 300,000 U.S. troops suffer from major depression or post-traumatic stress from serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and about 320,000 soldiers have brain injuries, according to a RAND Corp. report released in April.

These studies and other concerns is what prompted MHS to create the portal, afterdeployment.org, to provide online behavioral health tools for service members, said Dr. Robert Ciulla, who headed the Web site's project office at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash.. Users of the portal can log in anonymously, and Ciulla said the site could serve as an alternative to traditional counseling for some personnel, while others could use it along with face-to-face counseling.

The portal uses a variety of multimedia tools to help service personnel conduct personal mental assessments, videos of soldiers who have dealt with related alcohol abuse problems, and checklists for anger, depression and family relationships.

The site also offers online help to deal with combat stress problems, including with anger and depression. MHS said the portal should be particularly useful for National Guard and Reserve units who may be far from a military treatment facility or located in areas that lack providers who are knowledgeable about military-related adjustment concerns.

The portal was developed by the Telehealth and Technology Center at Madigan in cooperation with VA's National Centers for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the Center for Deployment Psychology and other military organizations.

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