Almost everybody who joins the U.S. Army today is quickly deployed to a hot zone and faces redeployment over and over.
Now burdened by almost a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US army is plagued with a record number of soldier suicides and combat stress. According to the army, cases of spousal abuse and child abuse or neglect almost doubled between 2004 and 2009. And referrals for alcohol and drug abuse rose from 15 thousands to more than 22 thousands in a ten year period.
In response to the alarming trends, the army has launched a 125 million dollar on- line program called the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. It's designed to teach soldiers psychological strength while dealing with the pressures of combat and repeated deployments.
Experts are perplexed by the rise in soldier suicides including those among the National Guard. There were 101 confirmed or suspected suicides of soldiers on inactive status in 2010, more than double the number in 2009.
The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program includes a mandatory confidential online assessment tool so soldiers can gauge their emotional status. They can take further optional online training to get help in specific areas.
Kathleen Moakler works for the National Military Family Association which is an advocacy group for military families. She says the new on line tool is for soldiers to use when are mentally healthy and designed to help keep them mentally fit. Moakler says reintegration is difficult when soldiers come back from war zones.
The Army also wants psychological resilience to be taught in classrooms and is in the process of teaching trainers who will go back to army bases and conduct sessions in person. Critics of the program are mainly psychologists who say there's little reason to believe the new techniques will be effective and that it's too difficult to prevent combat stress and that the new program may disrupt soldiers, innate coping mechanisms.