For John, BLUF: We need to fix our broken mental health system, while not making it a prison for the non-conformists.
“In the last seven years, you have consulted with a mental health professional (psychiatrist, counselor, etc.) ... about a mental health related condition?”Question 21 from the standard security background check form. The one we assume accused Washington Naval Yard shooter, Mr Aaron Alexis, filled out when he applied for a security clearance as part of being hired by Hewlett Packard.
At this point there are exceptions to Qestion 21, as this article by Reporter Anna Mulrine, of The Christian Science Monitor points out:
In order to de-stigmatize counseling for combat stress, federal guidelines now allow soldiers to answer “no” if they received counseling for post-traumatic stress resulting from battle, marital strife due to war-related separation, or grief from losing a fellow soldier.And there is the rub. If you want veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to come forward and seek needed mental health counselling, rather than toughing it out, you can't stigmatize them for it. When asked on Wednesday if the exemptions should still stand, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin Dempsey, said they should.
The title of the article is "Why Navy Yard shooting raises tough questions for Pentagon" and the subtitle is "The Navy Yard shooting has raised questions about security clearance and mental health, but with many vets dealing with combat-related stress, any solutions are fraught with complications."
To be clear, Mr Alexis came to the VA twice last month—once in Rhode Island, and once in Washington D.C. On both occasions, his complaint was for insomnia. On both occasions, he appeared alert and oriented. When asked by VA doctors if he was struggling with anxiety, depression, or had thoughts about harming himself or others, he said "no."
If you think we have problems now, consider the impact of denying veterans jobs if they admit to mental health issues. There will be those who deny having such problems and those who admit to them but can't get jobs. In both cases there will be a lack of mental health help.
Regards — Cliff