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Nov 10, 2010
By Master Sgt. Jennifer K. Yancey, 3rd ID Public Affairs

FORT STEWART, Ga. -- Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli visited Fort Stewart to discuss reintegration efforts with 3rd Infantry Division and garrison leaders and recently-deployed Soldiers, Nov. 8. While here, he stressed the Army's role in meeting Soldiers' behavioral health needs and the importance of family member involvement during their Soldiers' reintegration process.

With about half of the 3rd Infantry Division home from deployment, the Army's second in command wanted to see how the division prepared itself for this reintegration challenge.

Chiarelli said his focus remained on ensuring that the Army meets Soldiers' behavioral health needs, to include conducting good behavioral health screenings downrange of high and medium-risk Soldiers, and to "ensure that there is a system in place when they return so that the screening continues." Additionally, he said, those who may have not been identified while deployed can receive the same care.

"That's what I'm seeing that Soldiers need most, besides being reunited with families," he said.

Family members also require assistance during their Soldier's reintegration. Chiarelli stated family member involvement is "a key and integral piece" to this process, encouraging family members to participate whenever they can.

"The leadership here at Fort Stewart wants family members to participate," Chiarelli explained. "When family members are made part of the process and they make a determination to participate, I think that is a very positive thing for the family as a whole."

Since 2003, the Army's reintegration process evolved in order to resolve these needs.

"It's really important, working with an Army that's been at war for 10 years," Chiarelli said. "Their medical and behavioral health needs are greater today than they've ever been before. We're looking very, very hard at providing more of the behavioral health services than we needed before."

The general also cited differences in reintegration programs between Active and Reserve-Component Soldiers. Reserve Soldiers receive only five days to reintegrate, versus 10 days for Active Duty troops.

"Closer to the 10-day model is where all Soldiers need to be," Chiarelli said.

Unlike their Active Duty counterparts, he added, Reserve Soldiers must undergo demobilization at an installation far from their families, a process which can occur during weekends and federal holidays.

"Active-Component Soldiers have an advantage in that their families are here," Chiarelli said.

Once the plane lands and after doing some initial (Solider Readiness Processing) work, they're released to their families for up to 48 hours.

"We have to be willing to spend a few more days with (Reserve) Soldiers to ensure the proper physical and behavioral health checks are made and that they receive the proper treatment they need, no matter what it might be," Chiarelli said.

The general credited Fort Stewart's leadership for its position on Warrior care.

"I've seen a lot of best practices here," he said. "Fort Stewart is doing an excellent job in many of the areas that I'm focused on in ensuring we are taking care of our Soldiers. Collaboration between caregivers and the chain of command is extremely strong here, including talking through many of the tough issues important for Soldier care."

The division, however, could use an expansion of the behavioral health program. Fort Stewart, he said, should figure out ways to augment more psychiatrists and psychologists. Because of the shortage of these behavioral health professionals, hiring more would be difficult.

"We need to look at new, innovative, out-of-the-box ways to supplement them," he said.

Chiarelli mentioned a virtual behavioral health program, with a network of psychologists and psychiatrists who would conduct initial screenings of returning Soldiers. Those needing care would then be turned over to behavioral health professionals here.

Additionally, Chiarelli stated possibly moving away from the old post-deployment survey to an actual 30 to 40-minute evaluation by certified behavioral health specialists. Many of the reintegration problems occur between the 90 to 180-day mark. The successful care models, he said, reside here.

"The sooner you attack these problems, the better off you are," he said.

According to the general, Fort Stewart has one of the lowest suicide rates in the Army. He stated the combined effort of the entire Fort Stewart team is key to the success. He hopes to bring these best practices back to the rest of the Army "and have them implement some of the great things being done here at Fort Stewart."

Still, the ultimate success would mean eliminating the stigma attached to behavioral health.

"If you had a problem, you would seek the necessary help you need for that problem," Chiarelli said. "Behavioral health issues are no different."

Chiarelli said leaders can especially help remove the stigma by setting the kind of command climate where they want, and demand, that their Soldiers get the help.

"It's not a crime," he said. "There's no shame in after three, four, or five deployments, as many of our Soldiers have had, for them to reach out for help and get the help they need."