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Mental Illness Plagues Current Vets
Military.com  |  By Christian Lowe  |  March 14, 2007
More than one third of American troops returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with some sort of mental or "psychosocial" disorder, a new report from the Archives of Internal Medicine finds.

Out of 103,788 veterans assessed in the study, titled "Bringing the War Back Home," more than 32,000 veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom who were discharged from the military between 2001 and 2005 were found by Veterans Affairs examiners to have mental health problems, including substance abuse.

The authors of the study lead by Dr. Karen H. Seal of the University of California, San Francisco found that a majority of those determined to have mental health problems were diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or more than 13,200 vets.

And those afflicted with mental or psychosocial disorders tended to be the youngest troops.

"Veterans aged 18-24 were at the greatest risk for receiving mental health or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder diagnoses compared with veterans 40 years or older," the San Francisco VA-sponsored study found. "Targeted early detection and intervention beginning in primary care settings are needed to prevent chronic mental illness and disability."

A spokeswoman from Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington was unable to provide a comment by press time.

The study's release comes as the Pentagon is reeling from controversy over patient care at its veterans medical facilities, with lawmakers on Capitol Hill calling for investigations and more resources for mental health care. It also sheds light on an expanding group of casualties from the conflict whose scars are more than skin deep.

In response to the growing problem, the White House called on Congress March 9 to establish a new Medical Support Fund that would "improve the effectiveness of efforts to transition returning service members from deployment in support of the global war on terror to a successful return to productive military service or civilian society." The request included $50 million for the fund, which could be used for new research, construction projects or could be added to the Defense Health Program budget.

The medical researchers found that about 13 percent of those diagnosed were women and 54 percent were below 30 years-old. Additionally, more than 30 percent were minorities and about 50 percent were members of the Guard and Reserve.

The complexities of urban warfare and counterinsurgency operations typical of Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to the mental health problems found by VA officials.

"The majority of military personnel experience high-intensity guerrilla warfare and the chronic threat of roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices," the study said. "Some of the soldiers endure multiple tours of duty, many experience traumatic injury and more of the wounded survive than ever before."

Go to Military.com's PTSD page

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