The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

HEALTH ASSESSMENTS MAKE US ALL CRAZY |

October 26, 2009

HEALTH ASSESSMENTS MAKE US ALL CRAZY
Name: America's 1st Sgt.
Posting date: 10/26/09
Stationed in: Iraq  
Milblog: Castra Praetoria
Email: castrapraetoria1@gmail.com

Before we deployed we all conducted a Pre-Deployment Health Assessment. This was to assess our state of health prior to deployment and to assist military healthcare providers in indentifying any present or future health care we might need. I suppose it makes sense when used as a benchmark to gauge any changes in our physical or mental health as well. After we fill out the questionnaire we also have to talk to one of our Independent Duty Corpsmen or doctors and answer a bunch of questions, especially in the event we answered something on the questionnaire that catches their attention like:

I sincerely desire to go on a five state killing spree and charge all expenses to my Government Travel Credit Card.

If you check Strongly Agree they may want to come back for a follow up.

Currently we are in the midst of the glorious Post Deployment Health Assessment. This is to assess our state of health after deployment in support of military operations and to assist military healthcare providers in identifying and providing present and future medical care we may need. The information we provide may result in a referral for additional healthcare that may include medical, dental or behavioral healthcare or diverse community support services (this is pretty much all plagiarized right off the questionnaire).

Some of the questions simply ask how you would rate your health, if you have been injured or sick during the deployment, and whether or not you have any emotional problems, etc.

As America’s 1stSgt filled out his assessment the building veritably shook with the deafening running commentary that accompanies nearly everything that goes on in the company office.

For any of the following symptoms, please indicate whether you went to see a healthcare provider, were given light/limited duty (Profile), and whether you are still bothered by the symptom now.

Fever: NO!

Cough lasting more than 3 weeks: NO! I guess that two week phlegm festival I had doesn’t rate!

Trouble breathing: NO!

Bad headaches: I’m having one right now!

Generally feeling weak: I’ve never been weak a day in my life!

Muscle aches: NO!

Swollen stiff or painful joints: Is this the geriatric test or what?

Back pain: NO!

Numbness in hands or feet: NO!

Trouble hearing: Can YOU hear me now!

Ringing in the ears: Why do you think I turn off the phone?

Watery, red eyes: Only after I watch Sands of Iwo Jima!

Dimming of vision: NO!

Dizzy, light headed: NO!

Diarrhea: Well I haven’t had a solid one in seven months!

Vomiting: I can taste it right now!

Frequent indigestion/heartburn: Have you eaten here?

Problems sleeping: Only when idiots knock on my door!

Trouble concentrating: What was the question?

Forgetful or trouble remembering things: If I didn’t write it down then it never happened!

Hard to make up your mind or make decisions: No, it’s hard to get anyone to listen!

Increased irritability: You’re kidding me!

After the entire battalion does this questionnaire on line they line up outside the Battalion Aid
Station where they shuffle past the Battalion Surgeon’s desk like POWs answering a battery of questions, the majority of which are answered with a sigh and resounding, "No Sir" or "What? Why would I want to kill myself? I’ve been eating ice cream three meals a day for the past seven months."

The only thing that could possibly be more banal is being the poor guy that has to ask these questions to over 1200 Marines and Sailors. My sit-down with the battalion surgeon went like this:

Swaggering into the office I found my doctor had begun to slump down the back of his chair in despondency and could barely be seen over his monitor.

“You ready to get this over with 1stSgt?”

“Is that one of the questions sir?”

Anything resembling humor had completely evaporated from his system 400 interviews ago. By now he had more or less degenerated into a bio-mechanical automaton whose fist had grown around the mouse on his desk, forever chaining him to the demon-possessed machine residing there.

“Do you have any medical or dental problems that have developed over the deployment?”

“I may have chipped a tooth while repeatedly head-butting the corner of my desk.” This comment completely missed his funny bone as the nerves surrounding it had turned necrotic and died.

“Over the past month have you been bothered by thoughts that you would be better off dead or hurting yourself?”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. You do realize who you’re talking to, right?” At this point I was just another social security number, the idea of America’s 1stSgt having been completely burned from his memory.

“Over the past month have you been bothered by thoughts that you would hurt someone else?” The sound of my breath hissing through clenched teeth finally got his attention. His head lolled in my direction.

“Uncontrollably?”

“Oh! No.”

“During this deployment have you sought or do you intend to seek counseling or care for your mental health?” Having had Marines in the past with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury this issue isn’t one I normally joke about as my feelings concerning it are rather passionate.

Considering how much violence we endured this deployment though (that is to say NONE), it was the question that made me roll my eyes.

“Do you have concerns about possible exposures or events during this deployment which you feel may affect your health?”

This is the question that my medical professionals just love to ask as there are always a few Jarheads that are worried about the effects of being exposed to the Electronic Counter Measures devices on their vehicles or concerned about how many metric tons of dust they may have inhaled over the last seven months. These are usually the same ones who have no issue with having a cell phone surgically attached to their face or smoking five packs of cancer sticks a day.

The conclusion of the Post Deployment Health Assessment is by no means the end of the story. Much like sequels to bad horror films, health assessments rise again and again. Some months after we get back there will be the Post Deployment Health Re-Assessment where we will answer all the same questions again. This ends with one or two of the medical Corpsmen being staked in the heart to ensure they don’t become one of the living dead.

Then of course there is the Periodic Health Assessment which the military does with or without a deployment. At the rate we deploy nowadays I could be asked as many as five times in a year by a medical professional if I’m OK, without there ever being any sign that anything is wrong with me in the first place. A lot of times the deployment schedule is such that the Re-Assessment for the last deployment and Pre-Assessment for the next one are conducted at the same time. How’s that for mind-bending?

The next time I hear an “expert” on some news network talk about how we’re not doing enough to identify troops with medical, dental, or mental health issues I will openly wonder if he has ever had to interview an entire battalion five times in a year.

Even now there are units experiencing far more strenuous and combative deployments than we are this trip. With any luck the health assessments coupled with assertive leadership will be able to identify those who haven’t realized they need help or are too stubborn to seek it themselves. If it were a simple matter of paperwork we’d all be inoculated by now.

Semper Fidelis.

Comments

Very strong finish after a few chuckles along the way. Chuckles if you are me reading it and not everybody enduring the process.

I'm glad that this deployment seems to be quieter for you. Keep writing, we'll keep reading.

It fascinates me that the question from the psych nurse before a patient is released really is "are you a danger to yourself or others." If you answer yes you don't get out.

Hehehe... That was sure a long assessment process!

Q.)Trouble concentrating?
A.) What was the question?

Ok. At that point I had to call my brother to make sure he is reading these posts. We both seriously enjoy telling a true story with a straight face; while those around us begin laughing so hard we have to repeat parts of the story.

Keep writing!

He is a good friend that speaks well of us behind our backs.

I'm interested in such offer,The sound quality in these podcasts is really poor. I feel bad about complaining about something that is free, but I think it is important.

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