State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Funding, training help Nat'l Guard get whole health picture

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Nov 10, 2013 10:50 PM

This Veterans Day, members of the Pennsylvania National Guard are focusing on the work still to be done to educate service members about the importance of seeking mental health treatment and being straightforward about all their health problems.

Top commanders say the Guard is making strides encouraging soldiers to seek necessary health treatment, mental or physical. But it's complicated - while the stigma associated with mental health problems is subsiding, some service members are still reluctant to report they're seeking treatment - fearing they'll disrupt their career or lose their security clearance.

It's a "prevalent but... lessening" misconception, said Assistant Adjutant General Carol Eggert. "Nobody gets kicked out right away just because they came forward," she said.

Capt. Sarah Lambert, with the Guard's Resilience, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention program, said the problem is compounded when soldiers do report something that triggers further evaluations.

"If you're taking a certain medication, there are special things that have to be done, certain profiles that you have to go on medically, because of the nature of that drug," she said. "Soldiers get upset about that. They do. Because they're like, 'Well, why am I a profile now? I'm trying to do the right thing. You told me to go get help and now I'm being put on profile.'"

The Guard's psychological health staff has increased due to additional federal funding.

"We now have two directors of psychological health in the state of Pennsylvania," Lambert said. "We only had one before for almost 15,000 Army soldiers. That's a lot of people for one person to handle."

Commanding officers are also receiving training to help address soldiers' concerns. The first step, Lambert said, is encouraging soldiers to report what problems they're having. The second step is to explain why it's important: to ensure they're qualified for service.

"If you have a bum knee, if you're suffering from depression, you're not 100 percent, and that's dangerous to you. It's dangerous to the people to your left and to your right," said Lambert. "So we really have to change our language and not make it a negative thing, like, say, 'Hey, you have this going on and we're going to make you better.'"

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