updated 8/14/2007 4:47:02 PM ET 2007-08-14T20:47:02

The State Department plans to create a new mental care office and require employees to take additional time off to deal with a surge in stress disorders among diplomats in danger posts abroad, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday.

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The steps were proposed in response to the findings of a survey that found up to 17 percent of diplomats serving at such posts may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or similar problems, the officials said.

The figures, which some fear could be far higher in Baghdad and Kabul, are to be sent to all U.S. diplomatic missions in a cable as early as Tuesday after The Associated Press reported the results on Monday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"The bottom line here is that we are going to do what we need to do to help out our people, if people need help, if they need counseling we're going to do that," he told reporters, adding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is personally involved in efforts to improve the department's ability to assist diplomats.

"She wants to make sure that our personnel have the best possible care if they need it," McCormack said. At the same time, he made clear that Rice wanted "to get diplomats out from behind the desks" at all embassies, including hardship posts to do their jobs.

McCormack declined to discuss specifics of what was being proposed to deal with the growing problem, but other officials familiar with the plans said the State Department will ask Congress to fund new initiatives estimated to cost about $700,000 per year. They spoke on condition of anonymity because lawmakers have not yet been consulted.

Among the proposals:

  • Creation of a new mental health care office within the department's medical unit. The office would have three full-time employees, including a clinical psychiatrist or psychologist, a social worker specializing in stress disorders and an administrative officer.
  • Requiring diplomats returning from tours at hardship posts to take three to four weeks of home leave to assist employees in readjusting.
  • Revising mental health briefings for diplomats heading to and returning from hardship posts to focus on stress-related disorders.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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