February 2nd, 2010
05:23 PM ET

What’s Next…Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Mental Health & the U.S. Military

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/02/art.vert.whatsnext.bonnie.jpg caption="Bonnie Carroll founded the advocacy group, TAPS." width=292 height=320]

David Puente
AC360° Producer

A cross between the AC360° series “What’s Next” and the famed Proust questionnaire, AC360° Producer David Puente has devised his own set of questions for newsmakers. The Proust Questionnaire is a list of questions about one's personality, named for the French writer Marcel Proust who popularized it at the end of the 19th century. Back then it was in fashion to answer questions that revealed one’s tastes and aspects of one’s work.

If in the Proust questionnaire the individual responding reveals his or her true nature, then in this questionnaire we’ll learn about the individual and about “what’s next” in the coming decade.

While the battle over “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” captures national headlines again today, another battle within the U.S. Military is also on the minds of the country’s highest-ranking soldiers. The battle against suicide in the Military has prompted top Pentagon officials to call for a change in how the troops perceive mental health. The goal is to combat the stigma that therapy is shameful. But the fact that when a U.S. soldier commits suicide, the president doesn't send a condolence letter to the family, doesn’t help grieving relatives. It also doesn’t help de-stigmatize mental health issues in the Military.

Advocates for bereaved Military families like Bonnie Carroll say soldiers deserve better. Bonnie is a military widow who founded the advocacy group Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. I talked to her about both “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the fight to prevent suicide, which took the lives of 160 active-duty Army soldiers in 2009 - up from 140 suicides in 2008.

1. How will mental health in the Military change? The stigma in seeking care will disappear.

2. The trait you most admire in the U.S. Military? Loyalty and selflessness.

3. The trait you most deplore in the U.S. Military? Bureaucracy. It should always be MISSION FIRST.

4. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be? To have somehow saved my husband's life (he was a Soldier, killed in an Army plane crash along with seven other soldiers).

5. What do you consider your greatest achievement? Creating a community of compassionate care for the families of America's Fallen Heroes.

6. Which historical figure do you most identify with? Eleanor Roosevelt, who said "It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness."

7. Will gays and lesbians be able to serve openly in your lifetime? Yes. We need the best and brightest in our military today, regardless of gender, race, or orientation.

8. How will the U.S. Military change in this century? A shift toward humanitarian efforts and civil affairs…to heal nations torn apart by conflict and build the foundation for a peaceful future.

9. Who are your heroes in real life? All those who serve in the cause of freedom.

10. What is your idea of perfect happiness? Being surrounded by the amazing children at the TAPS Good Grief Camp, who feel all the more alive because they have had to confront death so early on.

Filed under: David Puente • What's Next
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Vicki Eastridge

    Having worked as a civilian mental health care worker on a military base there are many issues that need to be addressed.
    · Often it is the superior officer that makes it difficult, in one manner or another, for the service member to obtain the assistance he/she seeks.
    · Multiple tours have a major impact on mental health.
    · Inadequate numbers of mental health staff members
    · Service members being sent back into combat when mental health professionals advise against it.
    · Federal government should stop using contractors and create civil service slots for mental health care workers that are not in the military. This action would bring more stability to clinics and departments that provide care.
    Injured service members expressing an overwhelming desire to return to combat is often a hallmark of PTSD.

    I am most impressed by dedication that service members have for each other, particularly in high stress conditions.

    February 2, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
  2. john Laforme

    I am not in favor of having changeing the standard required of military men and women in the armed forces especially when fighting abroad

    February 2, 2010 at 7:42 pm |