LANDSTUHL - As many as 1 of every 10 soldiers from the war on terror evacuated to the Army's
biggest hospital in Europe was sent there for mental problems.
Between 8 and 10 percent of nearly 12,000 soldiers from the war on terror,
mostly from Iraq, treated at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany
had "psychiatric or behavioral health issues," according to the commander of the
hospital, Col. Rhonda Cornum.
That means about 1,000 soldiers were evacuated for mental problems.
The hospital has treated 11,754 soldiers from the war on terror, with 9,651 from
Iraq and the rest from Afghanistan, according to data released by the hospital.
"We certainly have seen an average, I would say, of 8 to 10 percent of our
casualties have some psychiatric or behavioral health issues for which they were
evacuated," Cornum told United Press International in an interview at the
That number excludes soldiers who arrived at Landstuhl for physical injuries who
also suffer from mental problems. It also excludes soldiers who do not realize
they suffer from mental trauma until they returned to the United States.
A veterans' advocate called the data an "alarming" barometer of the
psychological toll from the war in Iraq.
"It is an incredible sum and an alarming number," said Wayne Smith, an adviser
to the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. Smith said the number reflects
only a fraction of the mental toll from Iraq. He said soldiers need better help
in Iraq and when they return. "This is a wake-up call," Smith said.
Cornum said she does not think the number of troops with mental problems is
"It has not seemed unusually high to me," Cornum said. "Most of them come with
issues, depression or suicidal ideation based on some stress in their life that
probably got exacerbated by going down range. If your family life is doing
badly, deploying does not make it better."
Landstuhl, located just south of Ramstein Air Base, is the largest U.S. hospital
outside the United States. It is the main transfer point and treatment center
for soldiers medically evacuated from Iraq, Kuwait or Afghanistan on their way
back to the United States.
Soldiers arriving from Iraq by plane at Ramstein are taken by bus up a winding
road through the wooded hills overlooking the picturesque town of Landstuhl to
the sprawling hospital complex.
An average of 35 soldiers each day arrive at Landstuhl -- though 160 patients
arrived after the bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad -- for treatment in
eight operating rooms or to stay in the 148-bed facility. The nearly 2,000
medical staff includes an increase of 350 workers to help deal with soldiers
from the war. Because Landstuhl is used, in part, to stabilize patients before
sending them home, the average stay is just 4 days.
Cornum would not say how many soldiers from Iraq have required hospitalization
in Landstuhl's 22-bed in-patient psychiatric facility. Twelve of those beds were
occupied one day last week. Hospital data show that 2,489 of the soldiers who
have arrived from Iraq have required some kind of in-patient medical care.
Cornum said no soldiers have committed suicide at Landstuhl, but said the
hospital has treated soldiers after suicide attempts. She would not say how many
and referred questions to the Pentagon.
"That is a sensitive thing that some people might not want you to know, I
guess," Cornum said.
Among soldiers from Iraq with non-battle injuries, she said Landstuhl was mostly
treating the same problems that happen at home: "The same things you see, you
know, car wrecks and sports injuries. People fall down and break bones."
The Pentagon has said little about health trends among soldiers from Iraq, and
Pentagon officials have made a range of statements about mental health issues
On Jan. 14, William Winkenwerder Jr., undersecretary of defense for health
affairs, told reporters that the number of confirmed Army suicides for Operation
Iraqi Freedom was "on the high end of what they've seen in the past."
In a Jan. 28 speech, Pentagon Program Director for Mental Health Policy Army
Col. Thomas J. Burke said deploying to Iraq was not causing an increase in
suicide. "Are soldiers killing themselves in increased numbers due to
deployment? No," Burke said. Burke said media reports about a high rate of
suicides were "false."
In response to a growing suicide toll in Iraq, last July the Army surgeon
general's office dispatched a team to investigate mental health issues there.
The release of that team's report has been delayed several times.
The Pentagon report on suicides and mental health issues in Iraq apparently will
reference what the Army has confirmed as at least 21 soldiers who have committed
suicide in Iraq or Kuwait. The Pentagon is not counting deaths of soldiers who
returned from Iraq and then committed suicide, according to Pentagon spokeswoman
At least three soldiers apparently have committed suicide in the United States
after serving in Iraq. Two committed suicide at the Army's Walter Reed Medical
Center in Washington, D.C., one last July and one in January. The Baltimore Sun
reported Wednesday that 28-year-old Army Spc. Jeremy S. Seeley apparently
committed suicide at the Shoney's Inn in Clarksville, Tenn., not far from the
101st Airborne Division's base at Fort Campbell, Ky. Police found antifreeze and
Drain Pro by the bed. Autopsy results are incomplete.
Winkenwerder said the Pentagon does not see any significant trends among the
data but has deployed nine combat stress teams for forces in Iraq and placed a
psychologist, psychiatrist and social worker with each division.
Smith, the veterans' advocate, worked as a therapist at the Veterans
Administration in the 1980s. He said new Pentagon programs to address war stress
don't work for many soldiers.
"The military, sadly, will talk about the good things they are doing and the
American people will largely believe that," Smith said. "But the sad truth is
that is not the case. The military programs satisfy administrative procedures,
but what gets lost in the shuffle is the soldier," Smith said.
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