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Soldiers may better handle trauma with resilience training

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 23, 2009) -- The Army can mitigate the effects of post traumatic stress disorder by training Soldiers to be more mentally resilient in advance, an Army doctor said Monday.

"You come across an event and you interpret it based on whatever strengths, weaknesses or baggage you show up in the Army with," said Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, Office of the G-3/5/7. "If we could improve the resilience of the people before they had some adverse event, we might very well be able to have them view it as adverse -- but not traumatic."

During a panel discussion March 23 at the Reserve Officer Association in Washington, D.C., Dr. Cornum discussed the importance of "Comprehensive Soldier Fitness" -- the idea that Soldiers must be both physically and mentally fit if they are going to be their best on the battlefield.

She said many that have reported traumatic events do report PTSD-related issues, such as nightmares, but many also report positive outcomes as well -- something she calls "Post Traumatic Growth." Those outcomes include such things as enhanced self confidence, enhanced leadership, personal strength, spiritual growth or a greater appreciation of life.

More Soldiers could be equipped ahead of time to deal with traumatic events, so they can avoid the problems associated with PTSD, she said.

"The best way to treat a 'death-by-heart-attack' is not CPR," she said. "The best way is to prevent the heart attack. It's a lifestyle and culture change. And that's how we should look at mental health. Look at it with a preventative model and enhanced health model, not a 'waiting-till-we-need-therapy' model. That's what Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is setting out to do."

She said that Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is about increasing the resiliency of Soldiers by developing all the dimensions of a Soldier, including the physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family elements.

Cornum said a "Global Assessment Tool" is under development by the Army now to help assess all five elements of a Soldier's fitness. The GAT is expected to be delivered across the Army this year, she said, and it's in a pilot status now.

"Based on this, you get an individual training program," Cornum said. And after that, if needed, Soldiers can be referred to intervention programs that can help them strengthen their fitness needs -- whether those be psychological or physical.