Military Families Hit Pentagon On Response To PTSD And Suicide

WASHINGTON -- Blue Star Families, an advocacy group for military family members, released a report Wednesday that says a high percentage of service members are avoiding treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder due to doubts about the military's support system.

"Sixty-two percent of respondents who felt their service member had exhibited signs of PTSD, regardless of any official diagnosis, did not seek treatment, demonstrating there is a still much to be done to help service members and their families cope of the invisible wounds of war," said the group in a statement accompanying the survey, which polled about 4,000 military family members. Only 35 percent of those polled said that the service member in their family had sought treatment.

Some of the respondents also said that despite efforts to encourage service members to seek treatment, military culture still views PTSD as a sign of weakness that could derail promising careers for soldiers.

"The Army is changing and it gets harder and harder to stay in," said one respondent. "If our soldier were to be actually diagnosed with PTSD, we know it could affect his career."

Another family member said that "seeking counseling is often seen as a weakness to a soldier in a leadership position, and is often accompanied by a negative stigma." Others charged that commanders are still unresponsive to the needs of service members who want to seek treatment.

Such fears were compounded by the belief that soldiers seeking treatment are not able to do so privately. Eighty-six percent of family members said that "lack of confidentiality" led soldiers to avoid treatment. Fifty-eight percent ignored the symptoms that their families had observed.

The family members themselves did not fare any better in combating mental health issues, according to the survey. It found that "the percentage of family members who have considered suicide (ten percent) is almost equal to the percentage of service members who have considered suicide (nine percent). Forty-two percent of respondents felt that the Department of Defense was handling the issue of suicide poorly."

The Pentagon pushed back at suggestions that it has been unresponsive to the needs of service members. Cynthia O. Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said the military emphasizes that "reaching out is an act of courage and strength" and that it provides a wide range of treatment and support options.

"No military in the history of the world has done more to identify, evaluate, prevent and treat the mental health needs and concerns of its personnel than the Military Services of the United States," Smith said in an email.

Despite the low numbers on PTSD treatment, the issue was only the fifth-most important issue for military families in the survey. Concerns over changes to retirement benefits topped the list, with pay and benefits second.

Read the full survey below: