Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Service in Iraq - The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Sad to say, the Travis Twiggs tragedy may not be as unusual as we would like to think. According to an AP report, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) reports soared up by 50% in American troops in 2007. And as dramatic as that number seems, an estimated 40,000 troops, military officials think that the real number is much higher. Hard to disagree with that fear, how many GI-Joe tough military folks are going to admit to needing mental help?

There were almost 14,000 new cases in 2007, versus 9,500 new cases in 2006 and 1,632 back in 2003 when the nightmare began. Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker thinks that 50% increase was caused by:

-- a new record-keeping system installed in 2004 (ok, that might explain a jump in 2004 or 2005, but by 2007?)
-- increased exposure of troops to combat
--Bush's troop buildup in 2007
--The intense violence of fighting in 2007
--Troops on their 2nd, 3rd or 4th (FOURTH!!) tour of duty
--Tour length extension from 12 to 15 months

In response the Army is looking to fill more mental health slots. They've got 300 to fill. They've filled 180. Not exactly rapid response. Among troops in Afghanistan & Iraq, experts estimate that between 12-15% of them are taking medicines for stress (trying to control anxiety, depression, sleeplessness). If they can control it with medicine, they get to stay where they are. According to a story in the Baltimore Sun, the Army estimates that 30% of its returning troops will come home with some form of combat-related stress.

The Veterans Affair Department doesn't seem to have much to brag about in this story. There are 1,000 suicide attempts each month of vets under VA care. And in the general world of American veterans (not just Iraq/Afghanistan vets), Over 6,250 vets killed themselves in 2005, that's 17+ suicides per day.

The Rand Corporation conducted a study that shows in addition to the 300,000 Iraq/Afghanistan war vets diagnosed with combat-related stress so far, more than 320,000 have sustained physical brain damage after traumatic brain injuries.

That is a lot of men and women needing a lot of care.

Care that they are not getting.

Care that is one more example of the Bush/Cheney administration taking on a conflict with no long-term planning in mind.

The following comes from the Rand study:

Researchers surveyed 1,965 service members from 24 communities across the country to assess their exposure to traumatic events and possible brain injury while deployed, evaluate current symptoms of psychological illness, and gauge whether they have received care for combat-related problems.

Service members reported exposure to a wide range of traumatic events while deployed, with half saying they had a friend who was seriously wounded or killed, 45 percent reporting they saw dead or seriously injured non-combatants, and over 10 percent saying they were injured themselves and required hospitalization.

Rates of PTSD and major depression were highest among Army soldiers and Marines, and among service members who were no longer on active duty (people in the reserves and those who had been discharged or retired from the military). Women, Hispanics and enlisted personnel all were more likely to report symptoms of PTSD and major depressions, but the single best predictor of PTSD and depression was exposure to combat trauma while deployed.

Researchers found many treatment gaps exist for those with PTSD and depression. Just 53 percent of service members with PTSD or depression sought help from a provider over the past year, and of those who sought care, roughly half got minimally adequate treatment.


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