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Naval Center Wants To Change Attitudes To Combat Stress

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The Navy and Marines are working to create a sea change in attitudes about combat-related stress.

Military leaders at Camp Pendleton are evaluating a new program, developed for Marines returning from combat in Afghanistan. The Navy, which provides medical care for the Marines, wants to find ways to tackle potential problems early.

Capt. Scott Johnston, director of the Naval Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control in San Diego, said he wants to create a sea change in attitudes about mental stress. He’s working with Camp Pendleton on a model program to better identify signs of combat stress.

“The initial goal was to de-stigmatize that,” Johnston said. “It’s not like you have to say, ‘Oh, I have a problem, I’ve got to talk to mental health.‘ It’s like, ‘hey, you come back, you get your gun checked to make sure that it’s operating property, we’re going to send you over to the mental health guys to make sure that everything’s ok upstairs too.’"

Members of the 3rd Battalion 5th Regiment were among those screened before they deployed, while they were in theatre, and then again as soon as they returned from Afghanistan. This regiment saw some of the fiercest fighting.

The Department of Defense already requires checkups every month for the first three months after service members return. But Johnston said signs of stress often don’t manifest for several months, and the plan is to keep checking in with these Marines regularly.

A separate program run by the VA in San Diego, the Marine Resiliency Study, is evaluating the general health of Marines before they deploy and after they return. The Navy has issued a notice that it is issuing a contract worth $6.9 million to continue these assessments for 2,500 Marines longer than six months after they return.

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