- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009

As the lazy, hazy days of August come to an end, it is good to remember that some members of the military community have not had the benefit of rest and vacation that is so vital to renewing the rest of the population.

Since the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, there is a stark division between those who are fighting our wars — including members of military families — and the rest of the population.

Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, director of Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, raised the issue during a recent screening of the film “The Hurt Locker” by noting an incongruence between those who fight and those who do not.

Echoing a famous quote by British prime minister, Winston Churchill, Gen. Sutton said, “Never before in the history of our republic have we placed such a heavy burden on so few, for so long, on behalf of so many.”

The war on terror, fought on behalf of millions at home and abroad, is essentially on the shoulders of a few.

“The military now has service members at all levels facing their second, third and in some cases fourth deployment in a span of six years, with deployment rotations not expected to reduce anytime soon,” Lt. Col. Darrell Duckworth said in an unclassified March report titled “Affects of Multiple Deployments on Families.”

“The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased the operational tempo and deployment demands exponentially on soldiers to a level not experienced since the Vietnam War,” the report says. Among the greatest concerns is that troops are not given sufficient rest time between deployments. A warrior who returns from a combat zone is given 12 months at home to re-connect with family before the next deployment. Yet in reality, this amounts to nine months, as the pre-deployment process involves increased training and long work hours before the next mission - a process that begins 90 days before the deployment.

Statistics on the strain on our forces are grim in every direction. Army suicides last year were the highest recorded, 140, since the Army began tracking them in 1980. The current rate of suicide indicates that figure will be eclipsed yet again this year.

The incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder also is at record levels. Approximately 300,000 troops have been diagnosed with some form of PTSD, according to a study by the RAND Corp. Yet only slightly more than half of them have received treatment.

Spouses of active-duty members are under intense stress. The recent suspected suicide of an Army spouse in the 172nd Infantry Brigade in Schweinfurt, Germany, is prompting greater vigilance regarding the mental health of spouses. The Army does not track suicide rates among spouses. However, suicide-prevention programs similar to those used to help soldiers avoid severe depression are being developed for family members.

In addition, a generation of Army children is affected by the deployment of a parent. Almost 2 million military children have been impacted since 2003 as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Approximately 234,000 children have at least one parent deployed, according to a 2007 Defense Manpower Data Center report. The impact on military children is not yet fully known, and most experts agree that more studies are needed. However, there are indications that many children of service members experience severe fear or anxiety, leading even to depression. Some children have behavioral problems that impact their performance at school; those younger than 5 might experience regression in key milestones of their development, according to Barbara Thompson, director of the Pentagon’s Office of Family Policy/Children and Youth.

The armed services have spearheaded multiple programs to address these issues. With continuing deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the physical and psychological burdens on our troops and their families are unlikely to end anytime soon.

• Grace Vuoto is the editor of Base News, a citizen journalism project of The Washington Times for America’s military community.

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