COMBAT OPERATIONAL STRESS
Psychological health is a leadership responsibility
Physical wellness is tied to combat readiness, and combat readiness is tied to leadership. When Marines are injured in training or combat, we do all we can to quickly evacuate them for treatment and assist in their recovery. But psychological wellness is also central to combat readiness; yet, some wrongly tell subordinates our Corps does not care about their psychological health - that it is better to return to Iraq without first looking after their welfare. This view is contrary to Marine Corps policy and it runs counter to the principle that Marines take care of our own.
Similarly, there is often a stigma attached to psychological health issues (combat operational stress, PTSD, etc.). A recent Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health report noted that nearly half of all Marines deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan thought their leadership would treat them differently if they sought counseling. This finding suggests a leadership failing at multiple levels. At the individual level, whether we stigmatize something is a personal choice. And at the unit level, it is an unfortunate example of accepting reduced combat effectiveness. Marines bear a responsibility to address this stigma. Ask yourself: "Is a squad at peak combat effectiveness when its leader is afraid to address mental health issues associated with earlier tours to Iraq?" I don't think so.
Combat affects us in various ways. Afterwards we need time to heal and many things influence our recovery. When we are physically wounded, our recovery is influenced by the type and severity of the injuries, infection, age, etc. There is also a psychological burden associated with combat. That recovery period is influenced by our individual experiences, biological and psychological make-up, age, relationships, etc. But just as physical illnesses or injuries can be treated or repaired, so too can psychological injuries.
Marines are uncompromising in our belief that we take care of our own. Yet, failing to support Marines who should see mental health professionals for post-combat stress issues and stigmatizing psychological wellness violates this practice. We do ourselves, our Marines, our families and friends, and our Corps a disservice when we fail to exercise our leadership responsibilities. Marines take care of our own, and psychological health is a leadership responsibility.
There are many ways to assist yourselves, your Marines and your families during the post-combat psychological recovery period. These include unit surgeons, chaplains, the SACO, the Naval Hospital, the Deployment Health Clinic, Military OneSource, and various MCCS programs, to include Marine & Family Services Counseling Services, CREDO and CSACC. For information on these and other civilian and military resources, see Marine Corps MCCS Counseling Services.