Sniper's Murder Renews Focus On Soldiers' Invisible Wounds

By: Lindsey Rogers Email
By: Lindsey Rogers Email

FORT RILEY, Kan. (WIBW) -- The murder of Chris Kyle, known as America's most lethal sniper, has stunned many in the military community and others across the nation.

The former Navy Seal was reportedly killed at the hands of another veteran he was helping work through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It’s tragic and rare. Officials are concerned it might stigmatize returning soldiers and veterans. But Kyle’s death has spurred discussion of what’s being done to help troops deal with the aftermath of war.

At Fort Riley, the Department of Behavioral Health at Irwin Army Community Hospital is expanding and there are already more than 200 behavioral health providers that provide a wide range of services. From psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health specialists and social workers to marriage and family therapy counselors and military family life consultants, there is a big network of behavioral health providers available to help our troops.

"We’re able to see all soldiers for all the behavioral health care they would need. We offer individual appointments, group appointments, couples appointments. We have PTSD groups, we have anger groups, we have sleep groups and we have a wide range of behavioral health treatment on this installation," said Major Peter Marlin, who oversees the Department of Behavioral Health on the installation.

Behavioral health was one of the health care aspects senior Army leaders explored when they visited Fort Riley this past summer to assess the overall health of the force.

The Surgeon General of the Army said since 2007, the number of behavioral health providers has increased by 83 percent.

Major Marlin told WIBW: "The programs have increased. We’ve begun to recognize the need of this war being that for mental health casualties. This department in itself has tripled in size in the last 6 years and we’re still not as large as we need to be to cover all services for both soldiers and family members."

Over the next few years, Fort Riley is transitioning to the "Embedded Behavioral Health Model" where a team of 13 behavioral health providers and staff will be integrated into a brigade combat team. One team has already been created and two others will be formed by the end of this fiscal year. Providers are already embedded in primary care clinics on post.

"These are providers that are under hospital ownership but yet they work very closely with brigade leadership. The team leader will work very closely with the brigade commander and all the battalions are aligned with providers. It greatly increases communication between behavioral health staff and unit leaders. It decreases stigma because we get out in the footprint of where the soldiers work on a daily basis. Decreasing stigma allows the soldiers to come in and see us easier, less time away from work," Marlin explained, "Rather than stay located in one area. We reaching out and branching out into small teams so that decreases stigma and improves access to care for soldiers."

He says it's important that soldiers who might be experiencing problems are engaged early on.

"The key is getting soldiers with mild symptoms to come forward and seek help before they get in trouble, before their symptoms get too bad, before they have work impairment or social impairment and anything we can do to reach out and front load is amazing helpful," he added.

When asked about security at the hospital and the surrounding health care facilities, Marlin says it's something officials are working to improve. Silent security buttons are being placed in behavioral health offices so that a signal will register with security that a room is in distress. The hospital's security team, along with local military police, would respond to any potential emergencies, he said.


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