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Psychological Injury and Law

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 1–23 | Cite as

Do the Military’s Frontline Psychiatry/Combat and Operational Stress Control Doctrine Help or Harm Veterans?—Part One: Framing the Issue

  • Mark C. Russell
  • Charles R. FigleyEmail author
Article

Abstract

This is the first of a three-part systematic review of the potential benefits and harmful effects of the military’s century-old doctrine of frontline psychiatry or combat and operational stress control (COSC). Since the Second World War, psychiatric casualties have outnumbered the combined total of American service members both wounded and killed-in-action. The original, explicit purpose of frontline psychiatry programs established during the First World War was to prevent mass evacuation and attrition of military personnel experiencing acute war stress injuries by emphasizing brief, nonpsychiatric interventions resulting in return to duty (RTD). Although frontline psychiatry continues to evolve, these bedrock principles of RTD and avoiding psychiatric evacuation remain unchanged. Today, the US military explicitly predicts that over 95% of war stress casualties will be RTD with evacuation limited to those deemed either grossly impaired and/or clear safety risks to self or others. The military justifies its mental health policy by claiming that studies have demonstrated its health benefits to individual service members and their families, as well as findings that medical evacuation and subsequent psychiatric treatment are harmful. However, the only systematic review of the effectiveness of frontline psychiatry was published in 2003, warranting critical examination of the military’s claims. Specifically, the actual evidence for or against the military’s primary mental health policy has never been fully examined, so that any conclusions are tentative. The sheer complexity and national security implications underlying the military’s unchallenged 100-year doctrine required a three-part review. In this study, we frame the debate on the military’s frontline psychiatry/COSC by examining its historical origins, ethical-legal controversies, and contemporary program descriptions.

Keywords

War stress PTSD Military Veterans Combat stress control Forward psychiatry Combat psychiatry Combat and operational stress control 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank David Gellman for his assistance with the literature review. This study was unfunded.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Antioch University SeattleSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Tulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA

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