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EDITORIAL: With military duty, government responsibility

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2009

After eight years of war in Afghanistan and six in Iraq, members of the military are feeling the strain of third, fourth and even fifth tours. It's no surprise, then, that their children and spouses are turning to counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists more than ever before. So nearly a decade into unprecedented deployments, the Democratic Congress suggests the Pentagon launch a new study and experiment with a pilot program. Such bold leadership must be a comfort to those who carry the heaviest burden of our national defense.

The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have tracked increases in the use of inpatient and outpatient psychological care by the spouses and children of active duty, reserve and National Guard soldiers from 2003 - when the Iraq war began - to 2008. Over that time, outpatient mental health visits by just the children of active-duty service personnel doubled to 2 million visits a year. Faced with such obvious need, and without direction from Congress, the two departments are already analyzing mental-health needs on the home front.

The solution proposed by Congress in the 2010 Defense authorization bill to launch a study and then draft a plan to address the needs of soldiers' children while the secretary of the Army launches a pilot program to deal with the issue is laughably small. The Obama administration isn't much better. It took eight months after the inauguration for the president to get around to appointing an undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, the official whose job it is to oversee military health issues.

Care of those who serve our nation in war - and their families - is among the government's most solemn obligations. They deserve more than fig-leaf research programs and the crumbs of the defense budget.