Monday, March 12, 2007

The PTSD Timebomb

As the Walter Reed scandal continues, another far larger medical problem for returning veterans of Bush's mismanaged adventures goes largely unnoticed. ABC, however, should be congratulated for turning the spotlight on treatment of PTSD among veterans:
Researchers looked at more than 100,000 troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan treated at Veterans Affairs facilities between 2001 and 2005. They found that almost one-third suffered from a mental health problem.

The most common diagnosis was PTSD, which accounted for just over half of all the mental health cases found. But more than half of the veterans in the study had more than one mental health problem.

The large number of cases suggests an epidemic of mental health problems affecting those returning from the battlefield. And the authors say the government is not doing enough to treat these patients.

In the general population, an estimated 8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women twice as likely as men to develop the disorder. The incidence of the disorder increases to 30 percent for those who have spent time in war zones.

And the impacts of this condition can be grave; a survey, conducted last December, showed suicides among U.S. soldiers in Iraq doubled in 2005 over the previous year.

Twenty-two U.S. soldiers in Iraq took their own lives in 2005, a rate of 19.9 per 100,000 soldiers. In 2004, the rate was 10.5 per 100,000, and in 2003, the year the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was launched, the figure was 18.8 per 100,000. The survey also revealed that 13.6 percent of the soldiers reported symptoms of acute stress, and 16.5 percent reported a combination of depression, anxiety and acute stress.

The numbers reflect the sobering situation many soldiers face as they experience repeated tours of duty in the war-torn Middle East.

"What you have to remember is that those that are sent to Iraq are already screened for mental disorders … so they are a healthy group," said Dr. Spencer Eth, medical director of behavioral health at St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers in New York. "If they are healthy going in, why do they have such a great increase in suicide?"

...The findings bring to light another concern — the need to ensure that adequate resources are in place for helping troops returning with mental conditions.

"We are seeing a great number of soldiers coming back being treated in VA hospitals and in communities with depression, anxiety and PTSD," said Dr. Michelle Riba, professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan and past president of the American Psychiatric Association.
Just to put these figures in perspective, they mean that there could be as many as 300,000 PTSD sufferers among recent veterans and still serving troops, the vast majority without adequate treatment. Repeat tours, "stop-loss" and inadequate rest times between deployments aren't helping any.

It's a mental health timebomb, and yet again "supporting the troops" among Republican war supporters appears to include ignoring these soldier's plight entirely.

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