For Immediate Release
May 15, 2009
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) expresses shock and sadness at the recent deaths of five soldiers at a US military counseling clinic in Baghdad, including Navy Commander Charles K. Springle, a licensed clinical social worker. Cmdr. Springle was based out of the community counseling center at Camp Lejeune before he was deployed to Iraq in 2008. Springle’s friend Bob Goodale told The Associated Press that Springle had dedicated his life to helping service members cope with emotional problems caused by combat stress.
Sergeant John M. Russell was charged with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in the shooting. According to the New York Times, the “killings appear to be the single deadliest episode of solider-on-soldier violence among American forces since the United States-led invasion six years ago.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates commented that, “Such a tragic loss of life at the hands of our own forces is a cause of great and urgent concern.”
NASW urges the Department of Defense and President Obama to evaluate the impact that multiple deployments and mental health staffing levels are having on our service men and women. As Patrick Campbell of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told CBS News, “These are the canaries in the mine. If we don’t start addressing these issues people are getting more and more injured and it’s going to get harder to treat them.”
Deployments are longer, redeployment to combat is common, and breaks between deployments are infrequent. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America states that, “Since September 11, 2001, troops have regularly had their tours extended and as of June 2008, more than 638,000 troops have been deployed more than once.” These multiple deployments are creating additional exposure to traumatic events.
According to the Army’s Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT), soldiers deployed to Iraq for more than six months, or deployed more than once, are much more likely to be diagnosed with psychological injuries. In surveys of troops redeploying to Iraq, 20 to 40 percent “still had symptoms of past concussions, including headaches, sleep problems, depression, and memory difficulties. Even after getting home, those who had deployed for longer periods are still at higher risk for PTSD.
According to the Department of Defense Mental Health Task Force, the military has fewer mental health professionals now than it did when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. The military is finding it difficult to recruit and retain mental health professionals because of the toll that all deployments have on individuals. The same report found that the military is having trouble maintaining sufficient mental health staff levels for the same reasons that they have meeting recruiting goals. Mental health professionals, concerned about the negative effects of protracted deployments on family life, believe they can be paid better to do more rewarding work outside of the military, and as a result, young people are no longer applying for internships within the armed forces. Almost one in three soldiers in Iraq say it is difficult to get to a mental health specialist.
This horrific situation presents an opportunity to reevaluate the mental health needs of our service members and ensure that those needs are being met, with active-duty military members as well as our nation’s veterans.