NASW is urging the Department of Defense and President Obama to evaluate the military’s multiple deployment practice and mental health staffing levels in reaction to the recent killing of five U.S. military personnel at a mental health clinic in Baghdad, Iraq.
Among those killed on May 11 was U.S. Navy Cmdr. Charles Keith Springle, a uniformed social worker.
A 44-year-old U.S. Army sergeant, who was ordered to receive psychological counseling at a stress center at Camp Liberty in Baghdad where Springle was stationed, has been charged with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. The suspect had reportedly been serving multiple deployments to Iraq, bringing into question the safety of military personnel serving consecutive missions in combat zones.
Springle, 52, was remembered by colleagues, friends and family as a dedicated licensed clinical social worker who volunteered for deployments where his skills were needed most: high-stressed war-zones around the world.
Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Norma Jones, who is also an NASW Pioneer, said Springle was director of the Community Counseling Center at Camp LeJeune. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008. Jones said Springle had requested to serve in the war-torn country in part to be near his son, a U.S. Marine serving in the conflict.
“I think Keith left us with a gift,” said Jones, who is an associate professor and director of the doctoral program in social work at Norfolk State University. “I feel his death is not in vain, and that it will show we need more mental health support. I think Keith’s death has helped reinforce the message that social workers can deliver quality mental health support.”
Retired Navy Capt. David Kennedy, an NASW Pioneerw, also knew Springle as a member of the small, tight-knit community of uniformed social workers.
“He loved what he was doing,” said Kennedy, a program analyst with the Office of Family Policy, Department of Defense. “He felt he could make a difference. He had a deep regard for soldiers and marines and wanted to help them deal with the struggles that can happen in military life.”
Like Springle, Kennedy was a specialty leader in the armed forces and was responsible for deploying social workers to serve in different parts of the world. “For years and years, social workers have been doing this kind of thing and we want to make sure Keith and other social workers are recognized for those sacrifices,” Kennedy said.
NASW issued a statement after the killings, calling for a much-needed review of the mental health support system for troops. NASW cited data from the Army’s Mental Health Advisory Team that noted soldiers deployed to Iraq for more than six months, or deployed more than once, are much more likely to be diagnosed with psychological injuries. In surveys of troops redeploying to Iraq, 20 percent to 40 percent still had symptoms of past concussions, including headaches, sleep problems, depression and memory difficulties. The statement also noted that the military has fewer mental health professionals than it did when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, citing a Department of Defense Mental Health Task Force report.
“This horrific situation presents an opportunity to reevaluate the mental health needs of our service members and ensure that those needs are being met, with active-duty military members as well as our nation’s veterans,” NASW said in a statement.
Springle was a graduate of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill where he received his bachelor’s degree in sociology and his master’s degree in social work. He obtained a Ph.D. in social work from the University of Alabama.
Friends and family have established the Charles Keith Springle, Ph.D., Memorial Scholarship Fund. The scholarship will support military dependent students in the MSW program at the UNC School of Social Work, who are working with military families or have an interest in mental health care for veterans and their families. Contributions may be made to UNC School of Social Work in care of UNC School of Social Work Development Office, 325 Pittsboro St., Campus Box 3550, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599-3550.