(June 20, 2017) The phrase “unique challenges” was uttered multiple times today at the National Guard Memorial, the NGAUS headquarters in Washington, D.C. Several speakers at the Reserve Component Mental Health Seminar used those words to describe how National Guardsmen and Reservists lack the tightknit bond of an active-component unit or live far from capable providers or fear the effect of a mental-health diagnosis on their civilian careers.
“Every day we lose a member of the reserve component to suicide,” said retired Maj. Gen. Jeffrey E. Phillips, the executive director of the Reserve Officers Association, in introductory remarks to the four-hour seminar.
ROA joined with NGAUS and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States to put on the event. It featured two lawmakers associated with the issue, professional experts and service members who have struggled with mental-health problems.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., has wartime experience in both the active and reserve components. He described how unit support differs from one to the other because of the part-time status of Reservists.
“We have to sort of figure out the uniqueness of the Guard and Reserve,” he said in remarks at the top of the agenda.
Later, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., pictured, mentioned “a crisis in access to mental-health care” for Guard and Reserve members in rural states such as his.
“We need to ensure that we are supporting them whether it is on the battlefield or in the doctor’s office,” he said.
Highlighting the problem was the story of Staff Sgt. Ryan Ziegler, a Special Forces medic in the Army Guard. Upon his return from Afghanistan earlier this year, he was suffering from several serious physical ailments, plus post-traumatic stress disorder, but he was quickly released at his post-mobilization examination.
“I can say I was denied care at Fort Bliss during demobilization,” he said while recounting that experience. He was not the only one affected, he said.
Other speakers included Master Chief Petty Officer C.J. Mitchell, the force master chief of the Navy Reserve; Capt. Matt Kleiman, the director of psychological health at the National Guard Bureau; Dr. Wayne Chappelle, a clinical psychologist in the Air Force Surgeon General’s office, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Clifford Bauman, an Army Guardsmen who was at the Pentagon on 9/11 and is now with the inspector general’s office of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and others.
Chappelle pointed out the importance of recognizing when people fall below their level of optimal function, even though they may be far from suicidal.
He also remarked on the problems faced by airmen who operate remotely piloted aircraft. They, too, suffer from combat stress.
“Even though they are 3,000 miles away from the battlefield, they are there every day,” he said.
Congressional staff members were invited to attend. NGAUS hopes they will take the issue to their bosses to find legislative solutions to the “unique challenges” discussed.