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Percentage of veterans with mental health problems jumps dramatically

July 16, 2009 |  1:00 pm

Soldiers About 37% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have mental health problems, a nearly 50% increase from the last time the prevalence was calculated, according to a new study published today analyzing national Department of Veterans Affairs data.

The study, which examined the records of about 289,000 veterans who sought care at the VA between 2002 and 2008, also found higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

 “What’s really striking is the dramatic acceleration in mental health diagnoses, particularly PTSD, after the beginning of the conflict in Iraq,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Karen Seal, a staff physician at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and an assistant professor at UC San Francisco.

The researchers said they could not pinpoint the exact causes of the increase, but suggested: “Waning public support and lower morale among troops may predispose returning veterans to mental health problems, as occurred during the Vietnam era.”

They also suggested that more and longer deployments could have also contributed to the increase in diagnoses.

The previous study of national VA data, which examined Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans seeking care between 2001 and 2005, found that 25% of those veterans received mental health diagnoses. About 13% were diagnosed with the anxiety disorder PTSD and 5% with depression.

The new study by Seal and her colleagues, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that 22% of the veterans in the study had PTSD and 17% had depression.

When the researchers compared veterans of Afghanistan from early in the war to veterans of Iraq four years later, they found the rates of PTSD diagnosis more than tripled.

The newest study correlates closely to a 2008 report by the Rand Corp., based on a much smaller sample of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. In that study, about 14% met the criteria for PTSD and 14% for depression.

In related news:

The National Institute of Mental Health announced it has commissioned a $50-million study to identify risk and protective factors for suicide among soldiers, calling it “the largest study of suicide and mental health among military personnel ever undertaken.”

The institute said in a statement that the study was a direct response to the Army’s request to use the most promising scientific approaches to address the rising suicide rate. Though the suicide rate in the Army had been historically lower in the military than among civilians, that pattern reversed in 2008, when the suicide rate in the Army became about 20 suicides in every 100,000 soldiers.

The research teams will be based at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, University of Michigan, Harvard University and Columbia University.

-- Jia-Rui Chong

Photo: U.S. soldiers walk through the streets of Baquba, Iraq, in June. 

Credit: Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP / Getty Images  

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Comments (6)

You really don't need to be a psychiatrist to figure this out. When people are taken from their jobs, sent overseas to fight and "win" a war with little or no clear idea what that means or when that will happen, and you get sent over and over and over again and again and again, you get a little depressed. Not to mention the long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of absolute terror ....

Perhaps labeling Veterans as extremist while cutting their healthcare funding is adding to their stress. Maybe if they got a parade instead of a line of insults, they wouldn't be as depressed.

After three suicide attemps from the pain of war, I still am not mentally stable after three years of VA counseling and meds...the problem is life isn't the same after deployments to Iraq. Hopefully treatment will improve and all of us Iraq veterans can stop living a prescription numbing life. I would love to smile again!

I would contend that there are a number of issues to this issue of PTSD. The military doesn't properly brief on combat area matters, young officers refrain from fully briefing their troops in fear of loosing command and control, troops aren't given the opportunity to understand their environment; it is get up and deploy and take that hill mentality. Commands sometime make very terrible decisions on operations which places troops in unknowlingly harms way, troops; even transport and admin fear the daily occurance of death in today's combat situation; there is no battlefield, the whole stage becomes the battleground. In fact, ground and air-troops are simply chess pieces to see who the next champion general can match witts with greats such as Gen Patton, Gen Montgomery, Gen Rommel and Gen McArthur; not really, but sounds good. Every level of the military must have full knowledge of a operational mission along with what is instore within the environment they are about to sacrafice their lives in. Keep no secrets and you'll bring more home alive.


Dee, needs contacts with military families who have lost their military loved
ones to suicide. Article WILL be written with wide distribution. This issue
is indicative of how insane these endless wars are. Contact info for Dee:
407-678-2860, and 407-951-2670, also

Two combat tours in Iraq as a gunner running the roads around Baquba, Baghdad, Tikrit, and Baghdad helped me realize how fortunate I am to live in America... It's to bad that a majority of the rest of the population will never know how lucky they are. Buried two friends due to hostile engagements and another due to suicide. It's been two and a half years since my last deployment and it seems like there is something new that comes out every day. I started reading through a journal I had written in on my first tour and it's as if I hadn't processed all the "stuff" that happened. It happens so frequently over there you just go on as if it's the norm... it is in country, but not state side. Recently took a position to help with returning vets, it seems to be helping me as much if not more than those I'm trying to work with.

To those still fighting, you're not alone.
"Without struggle, there is no progress"


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