JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – In order to be successful in their missions, Soldiers deployed throughout Iraq deal with combat stress daily whether they perform their duties inside or outside the wire.
The 1835th Medical Detachment (Combat Stress Control) helps Soldiers find positive ways to cope with that combat stress and reduce incidence of suicide through their work at the Patriot Clinic here.
Maj. Larissa G. Coon, Patriot Clinic occupational therapist officer describes combat stress as "dealing with one of the top life stressors while in a combat or deployed environment."
"This combat stress can be identified through dramatic changes in habits or routines," Coon said.
Coon, a resident of Goodland, Kan., designed and implemented many of the stress coping programs available here.
She said some of the top stressors that people deal with in their lives are: a job change, a divorce or marriage, the birth or adoption of a child, the death of a family member or close friend, or major purchases like a house or a car.
Coon said these stressors are challenging for anyone to cope with, but when the stressor is combined with a deployment, the stressor for a Soldier is magnified many times over.
When these triggers occur, the affects on a Soldier can be seen in several areas.
Soldiers may become angry at everything, have a change in sleeping habits or become withdrawn from contact with family, friends, or coworkers, Coon said.
The combat-stressed Soldier may have a change in eating habits, or may no longer be interested in activities that once brought them pleasure, she said.
Coon said battle buddies and unit leaders need to watch for any dramatic and significant changes in a Soldier's behavior; it could indicate the need for a "buddy check."
"Change is the main clue – the key," she said.
Coon explained that combat stress should not be mischaracterized as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a long-term mental health diagnosis where dramatic changes in a person's habits or routines continue for six months or longer.
A 2003 Army Medical Command report on mental health indicated that forward deployed behavioral health units experienced more than a 95% rate of return to duty status for Soldiers who sought combat stress treatment. The report indicated that almost half of the Soldiers surveyed reported not knowing how to obtain their mental health unit's services.
The presence of combat stress control units here in Iraq now reflects the efforts the Army has taken to make these services readily available to service members.
There are currently five clinics that offer stress coping programs to service members needing them. These clinics in Iraq are located at Joint Base Balad, Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Camp Liberty, Camp Taji and Forward Operating Base Diamondback.
There are behavioral health assets dispersed across Iraq in more than 25 locations.
Coon said an overwhelming majority of the service members visiting the clinic come voluntarily with only 1 percent of Soldiers being command referred.
When a battle buddy accompanies a fellow Soldier to the Patriot Clinic for assistance, the clinic has no obligation to report the visit to the Soldiers command. The only time this happens is when there is a fear for the immediate safety of the Soldier.
Coon said that Soldiers exhibiting combat stress do not all need to be treated as being a risk of suicide.
"Sometimes they just need someone, like their battle buddy, to offer some help," she said. Coon said the help a Soldier needs might not be anything more than hearing a buddy's offer of advice or guidance to some of the resources to help them handle an issue.
The Soldier talking about the stressors they are experiencing can do a lot to relieve some of the pressure they are dealing with alone, Coon said.
If a Soldier needs additional help, Coon listed some other resources besides
the clinic where Soldiers can turn to. Such resources are the Judge
Advocate General's office for legal issues; the finance office for pay issues; the chaplain for spiritual guidance; the Army Emergency Relief fund for unexpected financial shortfalls; the Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion for support to loved ones back home; and Military OneSource as a gateway to numerous other agencies and organizations who provide military support, counseling, and assistance in the states.
Coon said: "I have the best job in the Army as I get to supply the activities to make people forget about their stress!"
The 1835th Med. Det. is an Army Reserve unit from Aurora, Colo. The fifty Soldiers of this unit will return to the Fitzsimmons Reserve Center in the spring of 2009 at
the end of their deployment.
This work, Medical detachment combats stress, by MAJ Christopher Emmons, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.