When does the need of a single person outweigh the needs of the many? What if that single person is a soldier and those who need him is his unit?

The Boston Globe has an insightful op-ed piece today that weighs this question in light of the increased emphasis on screening and treatment of emotionally wounded soldiers. With the recognition of the importance of a soldier’s mental health, more soldiers today are getting screening and treatment for common conditions, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

But with such diagnosing and treatment often comes a discharge, because it’s in the soldier’s best interests to not be exposed again to the traumatic stresses of war. Such discharges have an unintended effect of decreasing a unit’s available manpower for the same mission — and not having enough new soldiers to take the departing solder’s place:

As all those Marines in my company began filtering out, some from essential positions, I started to worry about the welfare of those remaining. I worried, quite naturally, that if the exodus continued, we might not have enough to accomplish our mission or to survive on the battlefield. My sympathies for those individuals claiming post-traumatic stress began to wane. A commander cannot serve in earnest both the mission and the psychologically wounded. When the two come in conflict, as they routinely do as a result of repeated deployments, the commander will feel an internal and institutional pressure to maintain the integrity of his unit. I did.

Screening will begin to take a back seat, since it is in direct conflict with maintaining troop levels at the numbers they need to be. Treatment will focus on keeping a soldier in the Army first, regardless of how bad his trauma might be and what might be the best health choice for him. The author of the piece, Tyler E. Boudreau, a former Marine captain, suggests these things are already happening.

The Army must find a balance to this problem that doesn’t jeopardize the health and mental well-being of its soldiers, nor jeopardize future missions. The solution isn’t to simply once again de-emphasize the importance of mental health and screening for disorders like PTSD, but to find a way to do both (and do justice to both).

Read the full editorial: The military’s post-traumatic stress dilemma