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Nancy Sherman

Nancy Sherman is a Distinguished University Professor in the Philosophy Department of Georgetown University. She received her BA from Bryn Mawr College, her PhD from Harvard, and her MLitt from[…]

We’re taking better psychological care of soldiers than we used to. But with deployments getting longer and longer, far more needs to be done.

Question: Do wernunderstand soldiers’ traumas better than we used to?

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Nancy Sherman:rnWell we’re doing better in that we’re sending mental health clinicians rnout tornthe field.  And at Uniform ServicesrnUniversity, which is on the campus of Bethesda Naval Hospital, I rnsometimesrnteach some of these folks who are going out to the field. rn So, they’re deploying with the troopsrnand they’re going to be available, and they make themselves known in rnadvance,rnand some of them do like warrior resilience training.  I’mrn here, this is what a healthy soldier can expect to see,rnhelping commanders know that they’re there, so if some of their troops rnarerninvolved in incidents or they lose buddies or they kill civilians, they rnknowrnwhere to go afterward and have touched base beforehand.  So,rn there’s much more of that.  We have more rnchaplains going out andrnbeing trained in these areas.  Wernalso now are using medical corpsmen to help fill these roles, so they’rern notrnjust dealing with first aid and physical wounds, but rather rnpsychologicalrnwounds.  So, we’re doing a lotrnbetter.  It’s still stigmatizing torncome home and seek help and self-medication is one of the first things rnthatrnlots of folks do, sadly, which is alcohol or drugs. 

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And what we’re not doing enough of, I think, is rnreallyrngetting support to the families. rnThe families served too, in a way, as I said, they go to war in arn sensernwith their soldiers because they’re in such close communication.  They can email their war theater andrnhome theater are not so separated, and when they come home, they’re rnoftenrnlimited in resources.  How do yourndeal with a soldier, male or female, who comes home and just retreats rninside,rnor can’t begin to talk, and also unemployment rates are much higher forrnreturning veterans than they are for those—for civilians. 

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So, we’re getting better, but we still have this rnenormousrnyawning military/civilian divide. rnAnd the families in a sense are civilian families, of course, butrnthey’re military families because their loved ones have served and they rnfeelrnsociety often isn’t supporting them enough.

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Question: What newrnsolutions or interventions would you propose?

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Nancy Sherman: Certainly more moneyrn into the VA, stronger benefits, more robustrnprograms for seeking jobs, making sure that the military hospitals are rnnotrnthemselves shaming places.  WalterrnReed had a very big scandal about three years ago in mismanagement and rnit was arnbullying place where soldiers would come home and they were still kept rninrnholding units where they would be ready as if to deploy, but most of rnthem knewrnthey weren’t because they had such severe injuries, yet they still had rnto gornoutside for 6:30 a.m. formation, and stand in formation and whatnot.  Though many had been on very heavyrnmedications at night, or might not fall asleep or drift into sleep untilrn 4:30rnin the morning, and if they were on leave for awhile, they didn’t get rnback inrntime, they were really bullied. rnSo, making sure that our environments are healthier.  We’ve done a lot to clean those up withrnsomething called Warrior Transition Brigades.  Soldiersrn themselves helping other soldiers move through thisrnpassage. 

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But I would say, one thing we can do, and I’m rninvolved inrnthis to some degree.  If you’re onrna teaching campus, talk to those veterans that have come home and try torn breakrndown the barriers, and make them understand that they don’t have to feelrn it’srnonly those that have been to war and come home that can really be talkedrn to,rnthat we really want to understand and listen.  Andrn similarly those that are about to go to war who are partrnof ROTC programs.  Make sure theyrnare not feeling marginalized in class, or afraid to say that I’m going rnto bernserving in a year’s time, or whatnot, and really trying on a rnperson-to-personrnbasis to break down some of the barriers in our local communities.  I think that’s really critical.  Inrn addition to large scale policies ofrnmore resources in the VA, having the VA talk to the military hospitals rnmorernsmoothly.  We’re working that outrnright now with unified computer systems. 

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And also understanding that multiple deployments rnhave anrnattrition; a psychological attrition on the mental health of soldiers.  Resilience is sort of supposed to be,rnyou bounce a ball and it for a while continues to hold its bounce, but rnthenrnballs after awhile they keep bouncing and bouncing and bouncing and the rnbouncerngets lower and lower and lower. rnAnd a little bit like that with troops.  Yourn send them three and four and five times to war and theirrnresilience just doesn’t hold up the same way as in the first round.  Stresses on families as a result, highrndivorce rates.

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Question: Are some ofrnthese stresses unavoidable in an all-volunteer army?

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Nancy Sherman:It’srn an Army that wasn’t designed to fight two wars at thernsame time for 10 years.  If yournthink about it, I teach 18- to 22-year-olds, half of their lives have rnbeen exposedrnin a very indirect way, but nonetheless, that’s the background factor tornwar.  That’s a long time, longerrnthan exposure during World War II.  So,rnyes, big debate, certainly about draft versus volunteer. rn I don’t think we will go back to arndraft easily.  There’s not enoughrnsupport for that in Congress.  Butrnwe certainly could have more service of various sorts, national service rnandrnmaking military service one of those options so that those that go intornmilitary service aren't the only ones who are doing compulsory national rnservice.