WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) commented today on a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the latest in a number of reports on the Department of Defense's failure to adequately assess the post-deployment health of returning servicemembers. Akaka, Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, stressed the need for the Department of Defense to aggressively address deployment-related health issues.
"The Department of Defense owes it to servicemembers to ensure adequate assessment and reassessment of their health after they return from deployment," said Akaka. "They have committed to defend our freedom, and in return, we have committed to protect their health and wellbeing. Our troops and their families are too important to let any potential mental health issues slip through the cracks."
The report issued September 4, 2008 by the Government Accountability Office, found several problems with DOD oversight of the post-deployment health reassessment (PDHRA). While DOD has developed requirements for administering the PDHRA, the Department is unable to determine whether servicemembers are completing their reassessments. This report follows a June 2007 GAO finding that DOD does not collect or provide Congress with the information necessary for the Congress to evaluate the military's compliance with post-deployment health assessment regulations. GAO noted that while DOD agreed to the recommendations in the June 2007 report, the Department failed to incorporate those recommendations into DOD's oversight practices.
According to GAO, DOD is unable to exercise oversight for post-deployment health assessments and reassessments. In response, DOD has concurred with some of GAO's recommendation, but also suggested that oversight is beyond the scope of the quality assurance programs. Chairman Akaka responded, "Oversight is a necessary function and an essential component of the Department of Defense's mandate to perform quality assurance. The post-deployment health of our troops depends on the DOD's ability to collect and manage all necessary and relevant information. I will continue to work to ensure that the DOD improves its accountability to both decision makers in Congress and to our nation's servicemembers and their families."
Various studies and reports have found that warzone deployment puts servicemembers at risk of mental health issues that can be crippling if left untreated. For example, a recent RAND study found that nearly one in five troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. Other research suggests that mental health issues are more likely to be detected during post-deployment health reassessments, which occur months after servicemembers return from deployment, than during earlier assessments.