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New Policy Urges Soldiers to Seek Mental Health Care

In a bid to encourage veterans to get needed counseling, the Pentagon said Thursday that most military and civilian employees will no longer be required to disclose mental health treatment when applying for government jobs. Experts examine the impact of the new rule.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, new efforts to provide mental health care for returning troops. Betty Ann Bowser of our Health Unit begins with some background on today's developments. The unit is a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

  • MILITARY SERVICEMEMBER:

    Point out to us who the insurgency are.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER, NewsHour Correspondent:

    About 1.5 million American men and women have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the Pentagon says an estimated 20 percent of them are suffering from mental health problems; other estimates are even higher.

    Two recent reports have found that military personnel are not seeking help when they need it. The American Psychiatric Association said yesterday that it found three in five members of the military think that seeking treatment for mental health concerns would have some negative impact on their career.

    A larger study by the Rand Corporation last month found nearly one out of three service members reported a mental health problem or symptoms of traumatic brain injury. And only half of them sought help.

    That study also found that many of the returning troops thought seeking treatment would have a negative impact on their security clearance and their careers.

    During a visit today to a Fort Bliss, Texas, treatment center designed to help troops with post-traumatic stress disorder, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced a policy change aimed at fixing that.

    ROBERT GATES, Secretary of Defense: The most important thing for us now is to get the word out, as far as we can, to every man and woman in uniform to let them know about this change, to let them know the efforts that are underway to remove the stigma, and to encourage them to seek help when they are in the theater or when they return from the theater.

  • DOCTOR:

    I'm glad that you actually were able to verbalize…

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Gates said, under the new policy, troops and civilian employees applying for a security clearance will no longer have to admit they've had mental health treatment unless it was court-ordered or violence-related.

    He referred to the infamous question 21 on the form which asks applicants whether they have consulted a mental health professional in the past seven years.

  • ROBERT GATES:

    It now is clear to people who answer that question that they can answer "no" if they have sought help to deal with their combat stress.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Later at the Pentagon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, said he wants to send a message to everyone in the military.

    ADM. MIKE MULLEN, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Psychological health and fitness is no different than physical health and fitness. Both are readiness issues; both are leadership issues.

    Getting this question changed is a terrific step to achieving better readiness for the individual and for the service. I hope it's also a great first step in changing our culture.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The new policy is effective immediately.