Shinseki Measures Scope Of Veterans’ Mental Issues

November 13, 2009

In his first nine months as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, retired Gen. Eric Shinseki has spent hours just listening to veterans talk. Shinseki tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep that he feels a strong obligation to “give back” to the men and women he once served with. Last week, Shinseki spoke to a group of young veterans attending college. A former Army chief of staff who was wounded during his service in Vietnam, Shinseki asked the veterans if any of them suffered from post-traumatic stress. He got only silence — so Shinseki asked about symptoms. “How many of you have a little trouble sleeping at night?” he asked the students, many of whom had been in combat. The general then asked them if they were overly vigilant for threats in their own homes, or if any of them had been having anger management problems. “And then hands go up,” Shinseki said. “And they looked at each other, and they suddenly realize they’re not the only ones in it.” Since 2001, more than 1 million new veterans have come into a system that is being stretched thin. And one thing they’ll need a lot of help with is their own peace of mind. In particular, Shinseki has been concerned with what he calls “resilience.” Shinseki, a former engineering student, describes what happens when a ball is suspended in air and then dropped. The ball will bounce, he said — but it will not rise to the same height from which it was dropped. And if the ball continues to bounce, it progressively gets lower and lower. “This also describes the multiple deployments” that American soldiers have experienced in the past eight years on tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Shinseki said. “Quality of resilience is affected.”


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