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Thursday, January 20, 2011 - 11:43am

Mental Screenings Help Soldiers

Soldiers screened for mental health problems before deploying to Iraq were far less likely to suffer from them during depolyment.

That's the conclusion of a study of more than 21,000 soldiers from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, based at Ft. Stewart, near Savannah.

The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, looked at soldiers before and after 15 months in Iraq.

One group recevied additional screenings for mental health problems before deployment.

Another did not.

Maj. Christopher Warner is an Army psychiatrist who co-authored the study.

He says, the difference was dramatic.

"There was more than a 50% reduction in soldiers who were having problems with stress reactions," Maj. Warner says. "And there was almost a 50% reduction in soldiers who needed to seek help for suicidal thoughts."

The screenings identified about 50 soldiers deemed unfit to deploy and about 100 deemed unfit for certain duties.

But it also identified those who needed additional care while in Iraq.

Col. George Appenzeller is another Army psychiatrist and the article's other principal author.

He says, the study is part of developing what he calls a "circle of care."

"They're getting their care at home," says Col. Appenzeller. "We'll make sure that they continue to get that care when they're in theater and then translate that care back to when they come home again."

The Army is using the study to implement new policies on menth health.