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Connection between Behavioral Health and Misconduct

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Behavioral health-related misconduct often leads to adverse separation for service members. Unfortunately, many of these service members lack access to to counselors before their mental health declines and potentially results in misconduct. An Army Times story reported the military health system has a significant shortage of behavioral health providers. The GAO found that more than 40% of the funded mental health provider positions remain vacant. The Defense Health Agency also doesn’t track whether service members in crisis are receiving timely care in the civilian sector. In this environment, it is easy to see how service members with service-related mental health challenges might succumb to bad behavior or attempt to self-medicate through alcohol or illegal substances. Often, bad behavior may be the first warning to a command of a service member’s mental health status. Commands should provide the help that service member needs before their condition results in misconduct punishable by the UCMJ.

How untreated mental health issues among service members lead to misconduct

Behavioral health problems can contribute to changes in a Service member’s behavior. Service members, like anyone else, can experience a range of mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, among others. These conditions can manifest in various ways, including changes in behavior.

Aggression and Irritability: Soldiers experiencing behavioral health problems may become more irritable or aggressive. This could be a result of heightened stress levels, difficulty coping with emotions, or a manifestation of their mental health condition.

Social Withdrawal: Some Service members might withdraw from social interactions due to feelings of isolation, depression, or anxiety. They may avoid colleagues, friends, or family members, impacting their relationships and teamwork.

Impaired Judgment: Mental health issues can affect cognitive function, impairing judgment. Service members may struggle to make decisions, assess situations accurately, or respond appropriately to challenges.

Substance Abuse: Individuals with behavioral health problems may turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with their emotional distress. Abusing substances can exacerbate existing issues and lead to further negative behaviors.

Decreased Performance: Service members may experience a decline in their overall performance, including in their duties and responsibilities. This decline could be due to difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, or other cognitive impairments associated with mental health problems.

Risk-Taking Behavior: Some individuals with behavioral health issues might engage in risky behavior, potentially putting themselves and others at risk. This behavior can include reckless actions on or off duty.

What is the connection between misconduct, mental health access, and discharges?

A study published in Psychiatry Research Volume 256, October 2017, Pages 428-434 and reported by the National Institutes of Health, said that among a survey of veterans, veterans discharged with general and other than honorable discharges self-reported significantly greater rates of mental health conditions and substance misuse. They also reported more negative perceptions of mental health care. This study indicates a connection between poor mental health access and misconduct-related discharges. Had these veterans had access to the help they needed, some may have avoided misconduct that resulted in adverse separations.

PTSD in service members

The estimates for PTSD prevalence among U.S. service members have ranged. Factors such as deployment to combat zones, exposure to combat-related trauma, and the nature of military operations can contribute to PTSD. Here are some general observations:

Deployment-Related PTSD: Service members who have deployed to combat zones, especially those involved in active combat, are at a higher risk of developing PTSD. The prevalence tends to be higher among combat veterans compared to non-deployed or non-combat-deployed personnel.

Branch and Occupation Differences: Prevalence rates can also vary among different branches of the military and occupational specialties. For example, those in combat arms roles may face a higher risk due to their exposure to intense and prolonged combat situations.

Multiple Deployments: Individuals who have experienced multiple deployments may face an increased risk of developing PTSD. Repeated exposure to traumatic events can contribute to the development or exacerbation of symptoms.

Sex and Gender Differences: Research has shown that women in the military may have higher rates of PTSD compared to their male counterparts. Various factors, such as sexual trauma, could explain the gender differences.

Access to Mental Health Services: The availability and utilization of mental health services can impact the recognition and reporting of PTSD. Improved awareness, reduced stigma, and increased access to mental health resources may lead to more accurate reporting of cases.

Self-Medicating for PTSD

Service members with PTSD may choose to self-medicate for several reasons rather than seeking help from a mental health professional. It’s important to note that self-medication is not a recommended or effective long-term solution for managing PTSD, and seeking professional assistance is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment. Here are some reasons why soldiers might turn to self-medication:

Stigma: There can be a stigma associated with seeking mental health support in military cultures. Some soldiers may fear judgment from peers or worry about the potential impact on their career if they admit to struggling with mental health issues.

Perceived Weakness: The services train Service members to be resilient and tough. Some may perceive that admitting to mental health challenges is a sign of weakness. This can lead some individuals to avoid seeking professional help and opt for self-medication instead.

Lack of Awareness: Some individuals may not be fully aware of the symptoms of PTSD or may not recognize that their behaviors and emotions are indicative of a mental health condition. A lack of awareness can contribute to a reluctance to seek help.

Quick Relief: Self-medication by using drugs or alcohol can provide a swift and temporary escape from the distressing symptoms of PTSD. This immediate relief may seem more accessible than seeking professional help, which can take time.

Difficulty Trusting Others: PTSD can lead to problems in trusting others, including mental health professionals. Some individuals may be hesitant to open up about their experiences or may have concerns about the confidentiality of their discussions.

Limited Access to Resources: In some cases, soldiers may face challenges in accessing mental health resources due to logistical issues, long waiting times, or lack of availability of services. This lack of availability can contribute to a reliance on self-medication as a seemingly more accessible option.

It’s important to note that Service members, like anyone else, can benefit from mental health support and resources. Recognizing the signs of behavioral health problems early on and providing appropriate intervention and treatment can help mitigate the impact on their behavior and overall well-being. Military organizations often have mental health support services and programs in place to address the unique challenges faced by service members. However, considering the struggles the services are having in hiring mental health professionals, many of these service members may go untreated. Encouraging an open dialogue about mental health, reducing stigma, and promoting a supportive environment are crucial aspects of addressing behavioral health issues in the military. Untreated mental health struggles could eventually manifest in misconduct. Commanders should identify and support these service members before they get into trouble. Their service owes them that.

If you are under investigation for misconduct or are facing charges, we may be able to help. Our attorney, Mr. Kageleiry, has worked with many service members whose service-related behavioral health issues were at the heart of their struggle. It may be possible to mitigate consequences by clearly communicating behavioral health conditions as part of the legal process. Reach us here and at 757-504-2815 to discuss your case.



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