San Diego Union Tribune

July 13, 2007

Pentagon says it doesn't need new mental health funds

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – A top Pentagon official yesterday suggested that the Department of Defense is skeptical of calls for significant new funding for military mental health, even though it has embraced a task force report calling for an overhaul of the system.

“Most of the issues that I've seen would not require new funds,” said Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

 

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Casscells told the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, that the Pentagon is conducting an exhaustive assessment of its mental health system to determine what changes to make in response to the task force recommendations.

The report, which came out last month, urges the military to dispel the stigma associated with seeking mental health care. It also calls for improving the continuity of care and providing additional funding and personnel to treat service members and their families.

The report did not specify the amount of funding or personnel needed, decisions it said the military should make.

Casscells sought to dampen expectations of significant new funding after Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., demanded that President Bush ask for increased spending for mental health.

“The president's budget will and must balance lots of important issues,” Casscells said. “I have to recognize I probably won't get all the funds that all our providers want.”

He added that recruiting more mental health professionals, a goal announced by the Army last month, has proved to be a “tough issue.”

“We can't get those overnight,” he said.

Casscells said one change he thinks should be considered is barring commanders from access to mental health records.

Currently, only conversations with chaplains are confidential, he said.

Davis said addressing privacy concerns would be a priority in drafting legislation.

“When a service member goes to see a physician, that record is open, and we need to take a look at that,” she said.

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