On October 14, 2015 General George W. Casey Jr. the 36th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, was the featured speaker at NCIRE's annual event at the Marines' Memorial Club & Hotel. A digest of his comments is provided below, and the video is available here.
Veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan wear the scars of war. Some wounds are physically obvious, but many are not so visible.
At NCIRE’s annual event hosted by The Friends of Veterans Health Research on October 14, 2015, General George W. Casey, Jr. reminded the audience of some daunting statistics. Of the 2.5 million U.S. military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 50,000 have been wounded and 500,000 have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-traumatic stress (PTS)—or both.
He also offered what may be a sobering reality. “We’re going to have to do better at taking care of the men and women who have already borne the burden of the 14 years of war,” said Casey, “because we are involved in a long-term ideological struggle against global extremism.”
The retired general, who was Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 2007 to 2011, cited the history of decades-long ideological conflicts, including the 45-year Cold War and compared them to the current post-9/11 conflicts. “In our 15th year (of war), we’re closer to the beginning of the struggle than to the end,” said Casey.
When you also consider the millions of Veterans from previous wars who need care, he said: “This really puts the challenge, not just on the VA, but on all of us, as a country” because “we’re going to be at this for a long time.”
Casey was not pessimistic. He frankly stated the fight and challenge ahead.
Casey has a knack for recognizing problems and prompting solutions. He commanded the Multi-National Force-Iraq, a coalition of more than 30 countries, guiding the Iraq mission through its toughest days. As the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, he was credited with restoring and transforming a war-weary Army.
When he became the Army’s leader in 2007, he was stunned by reports that 90 percent of soldiers would not be assessed for behavioral health because they thought it would hurt their career – all at a time when incidence of PTS was on the rise, especially among individuals re-deployed to combat.
“The more I bore into this, the more I realized if we’re going to be successful as an Army I was going to have to defeat the stigma of getting behavioral health care – and that was a huge culture change for the Army,” said Casey. “I believed that reducing that stigma was the most important thing I could do for the long term, and that’s where I focused my attention.”
Casey helped increase the use of mental health assessment tools and expanded post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and suicide risk prevention programs. General Casey indeed changed the culture of the military by moving mental fitness to the same level of priority as physical fitness.
The Army and Department of Defense have made much progress in addressing mental health and breaking the stigma attached to combat stress, “but we have a long way to go,” he said.
After his retirement and return home, Casey met many Veterans and their families and found that the wounds of war run even deeper than he imagined. Thus, he has become a stalwart advocate for wounded Veterans, military families and survivors of the fallen.
He urged greater effort and partnerships from all sectors to heal combat Veterans and their families.
“The government can’t do everything for our Veterans,” he said. “The government will never deal with the individual challenges of the 22 million Veterans that are out there.”
Wide-scale healing can only happen with partnerships, such as those at NCIRE—The Veterans Health Research Institute, he said. “That’s what it’s going to take to get our men and women the care they deserve.”
“Physically, mentally and emotionally strong Veterans can only be good for this country,” said Casey. “And we have to leverage the public and private wealth of this country to make sure that our Veterans get the care they need so they can productively contribute to our society.”