As the 4th Brigade Combat Team returns home from Afghanistan, Fort Carson says it is poised to treat soldiers who may be suffering depression, anxiety, nightmares and brain injuries after a year at war.
Nearly 200 of the brigade's 3,800 soldiers have arrived at Fort Carson since late April, and more will arrive through June. Nearly 50 of the division's soldiers have died in the past year, which health experts predict will have long-lasting mental health effects on survivors.
"I'm expecting to see a unit that's been worked hard and put up wet," said Col. John Powell, an Army doctor who oversees the post's Soldier Readiness Center, which medically screens returning and deploying soldiers.
During preliminary assessments in Afghanistan, about 920 soldiers in the brigade were flagged to receive a closer-than-normal look after returning to post, Powell said. They were flagged either because of concerns voiced by their commanders or because unit doctors identified risk factors that could be aggravated by sustained combat, such as a history of depression or turmoil at home.
There were 21 other soldiers listed as "red," meaning the Army considers them a potential danger to themselves or others.
"As soon as they leave the airplane, somebody's there," Powell said. "Some of them will end up as inpatients. Not a large number, but some."
Fort Carson has said about 100 soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team are expected to join the post's Wounded Warrior Battalion upon their return. Injured soldiers who are unfit for duty receive long-term care in the unit before they are released from the Army or returned to service.
Top Army officials have pledged to investigate questions raised by a New York Times story last month that some soldiers in the unit suffer from overmedication, neglect and harsh treatment.
Administrators at the Soldier Readiness Center say they have improved their screenings after seven years of deployments at Fort Carson. A stop at a behavioral health station alongside other routine screenings such as eye exams and immunizations is now mandatory.
Each soldier must complete a daylong assessment before being cleared for a 30-day post-deployment leave and then return for a reassessment within 90 days to catch problems that may arise later.
One top concern is getting honest answers from soldiers who often want to go straight home to their families rather than face further treatment.
The soldiers meet with physicians, clinical social workers and other health care providers who poll them about their welfare and compare their answers against medical histories and observations from commanders and unit doctors.
"It's that provider contact that allows us to get a feel for how the soldier is really doing," said Rick Bretthauer, the center's chief physicians assistant. "We try to get an idea of the problems that they've had during their deployment, and some of the things that have affected them. We ask how they're feeling now, and how things are going with their home and with their finances, with their job."
Soldiers who appear to be downplaying past problems may be referred to a behavioral health provider for a more detailed examination, Bretthauer said.
Information from: The Gazette, http://www.gazette.com