In a recent interview, Army Secretary John McHugh has revealed that the Army's programs for treating soldier alcohol and substance abuse are shifting back to the Army Medical Command from the Installation Management Command. The change comes following a disturbing report from USA Today that detailed the sharp decline in treatment under the Installation Management Command's oversight and a shocking number of suicides among the soldiers who'd received treatment.
As USA Today reports, the shift in oversight came in 2010 when, in a controversial decision, the Army pulled the programs away from Army Medical Command. Under the Installation Management Command, Army clinics treating addiction experienced an alarming decline in standards and much of the veteran personnel reportedly left clinics as under qualified personnel began running the programs.
USA Today's initial report revealed that, since 2010, 90 soldiers who had received treatment had committed suicide. An additional 31 suicides were recorded by clinical staff. In speaking with both former and current clinical staff, USA Today reports that about 3,500 of the 7,000 soldiers screened for alcohol and abuse issues and released with a clean bill of health should have received further treatment and counseling.
A MUCH-NEEDED SHIFT IN APPROACH
The reorganization of these substance abuse programs under Army Medical Command-- which is expected to be complete by October 2016-- is being lauded by experienceds and advocates alike. Former director of clinical services for the Army's substance-abuse program Wanda Kuehr told the paper that "safeguards must ensure that (treatment) clinicians continue to be licensed, trained and certified in substance abuse rehabilitation. If not, soldiers' treatment is not likely to be optimal. In fact, it may well put the soldiers at risk."
Additionally, the Army is moving many of these clinics to be "embedded" in combat brigades, recognizing the substantial correlation between PTSD and combat-related brain injuries with continued substance abuse. Officials believe that the move will also help lessen the stigma many feel about receiving substance abuse help. "Their mental health care and their substance-abuse treatment can be delivered in the same location," said Army Lt. Col. Chris Ivany, director of behavior health. "The people providing that care can make sure it's coordinated and risk is managed even better than it is now."
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