U.S. veterans struggle with war stress

The latest and most comprehensive study of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has concluded that nearly 1 in every 5 veterans is suffering from depression or stress disorders and that
many are not getting adequate care.

war veteran

The study shows that mental disorders are more prevalent and lasting than previously known, surfacing belatedly and lingering after troops have been discharged.

Rand Study: Nearly one in five of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer depression or stress

An estimated 300,000 veterans among the nearly 1.7 million who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are battling depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. More than half of these people,
according to the study conducted by the Rand Corp., are slipping through the cracks in the bureaucratic system, going without necessary treatment.

The Rand study underscores one of the lessons of modern counterinsurgency conflicts: Such wars may kill fewer troops than traditional fighting but can leave deeper psychological scars.

Screening techniques for stress disorders are vastly improved from previous wars, making comparisons with Vietnam, Korea or World War II difficult. But a chief difference is that in Iraq and Afghanistan all service members, not just combat infantry, are exposed to roadside bombs and civilian deaths. That distinction subjects a much wider swath of military personnel to the stresses of war.

“We call it ‘360-365’ combat,” said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. “What that means is veterans are completely surrounded by combat for one year. Nearly all of our
soldiers are under fire, or being subjected to mortar rounds or roadside bombs, or witnessing the deaths of civilians or fellow soldiers.”

Military officials praised the Rand study, saying that its findings were consistent with their own studies, and said it would reinforce efforts to try to improve mental health care. Veterans Affairs
officials, while questioning the study’s methodology, said their department had intensified efforts to find discharged service members suffering from mental disorders.

The Rand Study was undertaken for the California Community Foundation, which also has funded other programs for returning veterans. Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, said the study would help draw the nation’s attention.

“They are making this a national debate,” Schoomaker said.

The Army previously has said that an estimated 1 in 6 service members suffered from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, a slightly lower rate than the Rand study found. In addition to current PTSD rates, the Rand study found that 19.5% of people who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffered a concussion or other traumatic brain injury during their combat tour, a number similar to Army estimates.

Taken together, the study shows that 31% of those who have served in combat have suffered from brain injury, stress disorder, or both.

Combat-related mental ailments and stress can lead to suicide, homelessness and physical health problems. But more mundane disorders can have long-term social consequences.

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