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Interview with Mitchell Tepper

Addressing Sexuality and Wounded Warriors

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Updated March 13, 2013

The term "wounded warrior" was formalized by the U.S. government on November 10, 2005, when a program designed to assist injured soldiers and their families became the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (formerly known as the Disabled Soldier Support System).

While not everyone agrees with the term, it’s inarguable that we need more organizations addressing the needs of soldiers injured in combat and their families. While many organizations are taking the time to address the physical impacts of combat injuries on soldiers, a smaller amount are trying to address the emotional and psychological impact on soldiers and their families -- especially the impact on sexuality and sexual health.

But Mitch Tepper is trying to change all that.

As the assistant project director at The Center of Excellence for Sexual Health, Mitch heads up the Center’s Disabilities, Chronic Conditions and Sexual Health Program, as well as their Military Initiative. Mitch has spent his long and distinguished career as a sexologist advocating for a broad conception of sexuality and for the sexual rights of people living with disabilities. It was not surprising to me then that he has taken on the enormous task of bringing the idea of healthy sexuality to the military. Mitch generously took some time between organizing conferences and raising consciousnesses to describe his most recent work. (Disclosure note: As of late 2007, I currently sit on an advisory committee for the Center).

Can you describe the Center of Excellence for Sexual Health's Military Initiative? What are the goals of this initiative?

The Center of Excellence for Sexual Health at Morehouse School of Medicine under the umbrella of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute is dedicated to raising the national dialogue on sexual health in a sustained, informed, honest, mature and respectful way and to link that dialogue to actions that reflect scientific evidence and deeply held beliefs.

There are many issues surrounding military service and sexual health that have been ignored and that deserve more attention. Our Military Initiative is focused on developing a comprehensive approach to providing assistance to military leaders in conducting appropriate research and education, and guiding service delivery and policies regarding sexual health.

To reach these goals we’ve got a variety of projects on the go. Here’s a description of a few of them:

Obviously we need to start by getting an accurate and honest picture of sexual health concerns of persons in the U.S. military, including their spouses and intimate partners. We’ll do this both by talking with these people as well as surveying the range of mental health clinicians, other healthcare professionals and religious leaders (chaplains) serving military clients regarding the sexual concerns of persons serving in the U.S. military, and what kinds of services and support they are currently offering.

Working with our advisory committees and other partners we are establishing a national research agenda for research regarding sexual health and the military including:

  • Longitudinal research regarding the incidence of STIs among military personnel;
  • Sexual health and substance abuse in military culture;
  • Indiscriminate sexual activity as an impediment to military readiness; and
  • Research on the effects of modern combat on sexual health.

We are also thinking about the ways of getting education and support to the people who need it and we plan to make use of the internet as one way of offering information for people living with disabilities and chronic conditions resulting from military activities.

We know that we can’t do this work alone, so part of our plan is to develop education programs for chaplains and health professionals who work with people in the military and their families, as well as setting up a peer education program for persons with disabilities and persons with chronic conditions resulting from military activities, and their spouses and partners, for use in the rehabilitation/recovery process.

Finally we see our role as providing assistance to the military in the area of sexual health. This can include providing culturally appropriate education materials for use by U.S. military leaders in providing military assistance to military leaders in other countries; through assisting leaders in formulating policies regarding sexual health within the Department of Defense; and providing assistance to military leaders in addressing disparities in behavior, environment and access to, and quality of, healthcare services that cause differences in health outcomes for persons with disabilities and for persons with chronic conditions resulting from military service, including the special needs of women in the military and military personnel with disabilities.

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