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
“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.
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
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
“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
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
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