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Kevlar for the Mind: Military health surveys help you get best possible care

Apr. 5, 2012 - 01:23PM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 5, 2012 - 01:23PM  |  
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Reporters often ask me why there seems to be an increase in the number of mental health problems among our men and women in uniform.

My general response is that, first, we have been in two wars for the last 10 years. You don't need a Ph.D. to know that if you send nearly 2 million troops into a combat zone — many of them multiple times — you will have a dramatic increase in psychiatric disorders.

The other, less obvious reason is that the military has gotten better at identifying problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and traumatic brain injury.

For those of you still in the service, it probably feels as if you are completing a medical or mental health survey every other day. For example, within 30 days of redeployment, you are required to complete the Post-Deployment Health Assessment. Within 180 days of wheels down, you spend time filling out the Post-Deployment Health Reassessment. And don't forget the Periodic Health Assessment — the annual physical.

I know; PDHA, PDHRA and PHA — it's enough to drive you mad.

The military requires you to fill out the seemingly endless surveys for a good reason, however.

To put it simply, if you are not identified as needing help, you will not get it.

Unfortunately, many service members see the process of filling out these surveys as a hassle. Consequently, questions are answered either haphazardly or outright untruthfully.

There are a number of reasons why you should be thoughtful and honest when answering the physical and mental health questions on the surveys. If you don't answer truthfully, not only will you not get the help you need, but the consequences could follow you after you leave the military.

Once you leave service, you may not qualify for important veterans benefits if your conditions are not documented in your military medical record.

Another reason to be as accurate as you can is so that health care providers have a complete picture of your physical and mental health. The human mind and body influence each other in complex ways.

If a health care provider misses even one piece of your overall health puzzle, you can receive inadequate treatment, causing a delay in your recovery or making your health situation worse.

The next time you're asked to fill out another health care survey — and you will be — make sure to take your time and answer the questions as accurately as possible. You owe it to yourself.

Bret A. Moore is a clinical psychologist who served two tours in Iraq and is the author of "Wheels Down: Adjusting to Life after Deployment." Email kevlarforthemind@militarytimes.com">kevlarforthemind@militarytimes.com. Names and identifying details will be kept confidential. This column is for informational purposes only. Readers should see a mental health professional or physician for mental health problems.

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