Udall wants change to military culture that ‘stigmatizes’ mental health care

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall vowed Thursday to “hold [Army Secretary-nominee John McHugh] to his commitment” to make sure soldiers receive the best mental health treatment available after questioning the New York congressman at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Udall pointed to an Army study and an investigative series published this week by the Colorado Springs Gazette examining why some soldiers at Fort Carson have turned violent back home after serving tours in Iraq. One unit’s soldiers have been arrested for murder and manslaughter at 114 times the rate of the surrounding community of Colorado Springs, Gazette reporter Dave Philipps found.

“This is a matter of life and death, for our service members – and civilians,” Udall said earlier this month after the Army released its Epidemiological Consultation, or EPICON, study, initiated by Fort Carson commander Major General Mark Graham. “We must do everything in our power to ensure that the military is providing all necessary treatment and support to protect our service members, their families, and our communities.”

Last week, Udall and fellow Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet wrote the Army surgeon general asking him to extend to Fort Carson a pilot program aimed at encouraging soldiers to seek treatment for substance abuse. During Thursday’s hearing, McHugh praised the program and suggested it might help soldiers experiencing problems like those at Fort Carson.

Here’s the full statement Udall issued after the McHugh hearings:

“The Colorado Springs Gazette, the EPICON study, and other reports have shined a light on the violence committed by our own soldiers as well as the contributing effects of severe substance abuse, a military culture that has stigmatized mental health care, and the horrors of war. Serious questions have been raised about the military’s screening of recruits and the mental health treatment available to them when they return. We must do better – it’s a matter of life and death – in theater and here at home.

“I commend the steps that have been taken by General Graham at Fort Carson. I will be following up with the new Commander at Fort Carson, General Perkins, to make it clear that we must continue to make progress. And if Congressman McHugh is confirmed as Secretary of the Army, I will be following up with him as well. I will hold him to his commitment to help our soldiers get the best mental health care we can provide.

“As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will continue to fight for the resources our soldiers need to ensure that they are safe. But I also believe that we must think outside the box. We need programs that work – we can’t just throw money at the issue and hope it goes away.

“We also need to dig deep to find the root of the problem. We must continue to work to change the military’s culture, which has stigmatized mental health treatment and care. We have made some progress, but the Gazette story and other reports prove there is much work to be done.

“We owe our men and women in uniform nothing less than to dedicate every available resource to taking care of the people who have sacrificed so much in the defense of our country.”

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