Pentagon perpetuates stigma of mental health counseling, study says
Gregg Zoroyav May 5, 2016
Even as troop suicides remain at record levels, the Pentagon has failed to persuade servicemembers to seek counseling without fears that they'll damage their careers, a stinging government review concludes.
Despite six major Pentagon or independent studies from 2007 through 2014 that urged action to end the persistent stigma linked to mental health counseling, little has changed, analysts said in the April report by the Government Accountability Office.
"The potential for inconsistent decision making by commanders and leaders in suspending clearances or removing individuals from sensitive positions may further impede the department's efforts to address stigma," the report said.One key problem is that many Defense Department policies covering job assignments and security clearances still discriminate against anyone who receives mental health care, the report said.
The Pentagon largely agreed with all the conclusions and recommendations. Air Force Maj. Benjamin Sakrisson acknowledged that the problems described in the report can cause servicemembers to pay for their own counseling to keep it "off the books."
Among other findings:
A 2014 RAND study identified 203 Pentagon policies that may contribute to stigma and need to be reviewed, but nothing has been done about them, in part, because they are not a big enough priority for the Pentagon.
Despite a 2012 directive from the secretary of Defense that seeking mental health care should not adversely impact security clearances, this practice continues. Analysts found that people who see a therapist are at least temporarily losing their access to classified information.
Department of Defense civilians who deploy overseas are not asked about whether stigma is a problem, so it is impossible to gauge whether they are also avoiding mental health care because of it.
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