On June 2nd, Asagumo looked at an aspect of the Self-Defense Force’s operations in Tohoku that is very dear to JSW’s heart: after-operations support for its members. The Ministry of Defense’s Great East Japan Disaster Relief Personnel Care Implementation Team has been given charge of ensuring they get the necessary care. With few serving SDF members ever having seen devastation on such a scale prior to the quake, we hear the mental toll has been great – sadly however, the major media has not looked at the issue in great depth.

Ministry of Defense Implementation Team Established for Mental and Physical Health Care for SDF Members Involved in Disaster Relief Operations, Plan to Relieve Burden on Families


As the Japanese public grows more appreciative of its Self-Defense Forces, will they help ensure they get the social and health welfare necessary to cope with the adverse effects of their deployment

As the Japanese public grows more appreciative of its Self-Defense Forces, will they help ensure they get the social and health welfare necessary to cope with the adverse effects of their deployment (Source: Asagumo)

The ‘Great East Japan Disaster Relief Personnel Care Implementation Team’ within the Ministry of Defense, led by Councillor Hajime Hirota, held their first meeting on May 25th to discuss the implementation of comprehensive and mid-range care measures  for Self-Defense Force members dispatched to the Tohoku disaster zone.

The meeting was attended by Hajime Hirota, a Member of Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense; Tetsuya Nishimoto, Aide to the Minister of Defense; Vice-Minister Kimito Nakae, Chief of the Joint Staff General Ryoichi Oriki, GSDF Chief of Staff Yoshifumi Hibako, MSDF Chief of Staff Masahiko Sugimoto, ASDF Chief of Staff Shigeru Iwasaki, MoD Chief Cabinet Secretary Hironori Kanazawa and all the Ministry’s bureau chiefs.

Kicking off the meeting, Hirota told the attendees: “From the rescue operations to the nuclear accident, the SDF are involved in extensive, long-term duties across a wide area of the disaster zone. The devoted work of these members gives the victims courage, hope and a sense of security, and the distance between the public and SDF has closed like never before.”

He added: “The relentless harshness of operations on the ground are a great burden on their body and spirit. To prevent adverse effects on their body and minds, we must flawlessly serve their needs and reward their services with the implementation of solid policy. This includes not just mental health, but also requires the setting up of comprehensive long-term policies addressing family support, social welfare, and public relations support.

Even now there are 71,200 members from the three Self-Defense Forces in the three affected prefectures of Tohoku continuing their duties in the search for the missing, corpse retrieval, dealing with the nuclear crisis, and helping bring life back to normal. There have been three deaths among the SDF members so far, but many more members are facing mental and physical exhaustion.

While the Ground Self-Defense Force is establishing Recovery Centers at nearby bases so members can rest and speak to specialist mental health counselors to help care for such members, the Personnel Care Implementation Team is looking at the burdens upon the dispatched SDF members and their families back home, and implementing measures to deal with these issues.

Specifically, the team is caught up in the health care of SDF members working in areas contaminated by radiation and asbestos, the mental health care to heal those traumatized by their involvement in the long-term operations to find the missing and retrieve the dead, support for families forced to undergo the inconvenience of their serving family member’s long-term dispatch, child-minding facilities for families consisting of two parents, and PR to raise the moral of service members. Furthermore, they have entered discussions to increase the disaster allowance and raising public awareness of their work.

In an interview on May 26th, GSDF Chief of Staff Hibakostated, “The care of service members following their return home is very important. Alongside getting enough sleep and taking adequate rest, we want to interview service members to ascertain their mental and physical condition.” Service members will be asked to fill in questionnaires 1-month, 3-months, half a year, and a year after their return to investigate the state of their health. Hibako said this will allow them to cope with problems that arise.

From here out, while the Personnel Care Implementation Team continues meeting, it will expose the lessons and challenges of the current disaster, and plan for all kinds of policies and budgetary provisions to help aid both sides of service members’ health.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch