Opinion Section: Readers Speak!
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Imagine you are an Army recruiter. Into your office strides a fresh-faced applicant ready and willing to serve her country.
She is a twenty-year-old female who, at the age of 10 was placed into foster care due to neglect. She grew up fast, assuming the responsibility of two younger siblings, while still managing to complete and graduate from high school. Despite the foster care odds, she has never been in trouble with the law, does not drink or do drugs, has never been pregnant, and even completed a year of higher education. She has proven herself to be a reliable employee – working with special needs children at summer camps and as a grocery store clerk. She is slow to anger, has patience to spare, and is able to get along with all people without regard to social class, race or creed. She is physically fit. Attends future soldier training opportunities as much as possible and runs and works out daily. She is also mentally fit. As a victim of complex childhood trauma associated with neglect and the consequences of foster care, the Department of Social Services made counseling available. Through regular sessions, she was able to work through a variety of emotional issues, finally being released from treatment from her therapist last year.
You know she would be a great asset to the Army and the country, but there is a problem. The fact that she sought help for and has successfully treated her emotional distress associated with childhood trauma is, in the eyes of the Army, a red flag. Before submitting her paperwork, you go so far as to counsel her against admitting to ever having engaged in therapy. However, she refuses to compromise her integrity – not wanting to start her Army career off on a lie. This only makes her a better candidate for service in your eyes. So you submit the paperwork, and the wait begins. What should last only 24 hours turns into 6 weeks of back and forth. Medical wants detailed reports from the therapist along with letters of assurance. Five years of treatment plans are provided along with letter after letter. She calls you every day to check up on the progress, but there is none. Just silence.
If only she had forgone treatment altogether, she may be completing Basic Training and waiting for deployment or perhaps not. Would she be the same person travelling down the same path had she not taken care of her mental health? We can only speculate. But if you were a betting person, would you bet on the recruit who has taken care of their mental health and hygiene or the recruit who hasn’t or is willing to lie about it?
The Department of Defense itself acknowledges that untreated mental health conditions pose a greater safety threat than mental health conditions for which treatment is sought. Yet, she waits in limbo. Even though social workers admit that parents are now withholding mental health services for their children for fear of being rejected by the military, thus compromising the safety and security of communities, she waits. Even though recruits with a history of mental illness can lie to a recruiter, and be welcomed into the Army, she waits ready to serve and protect.
Put her at the front of the line. America needs soldiers like her.