Q&A with Lt. General John F. Mulholland, Jr. (Ret), member of the Veterans Advisory Council
LTG John F. Mulholland, USA (Ret)., member of the Veterans Advisory Council (VAC), recently discussed his role on the Council and his strong interest in helping to find resources and support for TBI and PTSD research. He also shared how he’d like to address these conditions as they often lead to suicide, a growing epidemic among soldiers and veterans.
LTG Mulholland (Ret). is a Career Special Forces officer who served as Commanding General, US Army Special Operations Command, as Deputy Commander, USSOCOM and as the Associate Director of Military Affairs, Central Intelligence Agency.
What or who inspired you to join the Veterans Advisory Council (VAC)?
My good friend and fellow special operations comrade, RADM Brian Losey (Ret) had discussed Cohen Veterans Bioscience (CVB), the VAC and its purpose. Knowing we both shared an enduring interest in the care and well-being of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, he asked if I would be interested in joining the VAC. I was definitely interested, so I took Brian up on his offer and joined the VAC.
Based on your esteemed career and many years of interactions with soldiers and veterans, what have you learned about CVB’s mission, vision and platforms that others might be interested to know ?
What really caught my attention at the initial VAC meeting was the fact that there was so little validated science and therapies really in play when it came to traumatic brain injury (TBI). Given that the military has been dealing with these wounds for nearly 20 years now, I found that to be both astounding and very troubling. I think a clearly articulated “state of play” regarding the science and therapies particular to TBI would be helpful. Likewise, in the diagnosis and treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If more definitive diagnostic tools were in hand to screen for PTS/PTSD, it would go a huge way in improving mental health care in both the active and veteran military communities with the added benefit of saving untold amounts of money.
In your opinion, is there a lack of understanding of the challenges in Brain Research among policymakers?
Unquestionably. I’m hoping the Veterans Advisory Council (VAC) can help change this.
In your opinion, how can the VAC contribute to CVB’s mission and help to change the public’s understanding of the challenges in Brain Research?
The VAC hopes to serve as a go-between between CVB, who is at the forefront of discovery for brain health and the “invisible” wounds of war (TBI, PTS/PTSD), and the senior military and civilian leaders who interact daily with these individuals. The more the VAC can be armed with hard data, especially new insights into suicidal ideation and the possible therapies/techniques for mitigation, the better we can assist CVB in their mission. The VAC hopes to support CVB’s efforts in TBI, PTS/PTSD and suicide in any way we can.
How can CVB reach new audiences and educate them about the importance of Brain Health research?
To start, I think CVB should develop an informative status update, a public awareness and education outreach campaign, that clearly underscores the lack of meaningfully validated therapies and medications for brain trauma. The VAC hopes to work with CVB to develop recommendations for addressing these gaps, as well as brainstorm how to meet the challenges of funding the science to address these gaps. This information is critical to informing our military and civilian leaders and helping them to understand their role in moving brain health research forward. Additionally, I would recommend partnering with well-established and vetted Veterans’ organizations as potential stakeholders whose own access to law makers and influencers could enhance advocacy efforts.
For the perspective of those in the military, what are the most significant barriers that soldiers face when seeking care for the “invisible” wounds of war (TBI, PTS/PTSD).
I am going to give you three barriers. First, there are still individuals whose natural inclination is to deal with the problem themselves. This is frequently a combination of stigma regarding mental health issues as well as military culture, particularly in more elite units. That culture is built around self-reliance and resiliency, so the natural inclination is to “push through” and fix it yourself. The second barrier is the lack of dedicated mental health care and its availability in the military. Yes, there have been improvements, more mental health providers, but it is inadequate and access to a provider is frequently many weeks. The message received by the troops is, therefore, that it really isn’t important to the military. This is often compounded by those commanders and senior Non-Commissioned Officers who still “don’t get it,” and cast a pall on troops getting help by their attitudes. Finally, there is still fear in the force that seeking mental health will result in a medical separation board and getting kicked out of service, which inhibits good servicemen and women from seeking help.