Study: Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans Face Record Mental Health Problems
About 15% to 20% of U.S. soldiers in Iraq have signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, and about 30% of soldiers on their third or fourth tours have experienced emotional illnesses, according to a study released on Thursday by the Army, USA Today reports (Zoroya, USA Today, 3/7).
The survey included anonymous responses collected from 2,295 soldiers in Iraq in October and November 2007 (Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, 3/7). Mental health teams from the Army Surgeon General's Office conducted the survey (USA Today, 3/7).
According to the survey, 27.2% of sergeants who led soldiers into combat in Iraq experienced mental health problems during their third or fourth tours, compared with 18.5% during their second tours and 11.9% during their first tours (Los Angeles Times, 3/7). The one-year breaks that soldiers have between successive 12- to 15-month tours in Iraq do not provide adequate time for recovery, the study found.
In addition, symptoms of some mental illnesses can become more intense as soldiers prepare to return to Iraq, according to the study (USA Today, 3/7).
Lead researcher Lt. Col. Paul Bliese of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research said, "We see this multiple-deployment effect for the mental health problems, (and) we see a similar pattern for morale" (Cheddekel/Kauffman, Hartford Courant, 3/7). He said, "Soldiers are not resetting entirely before they get back into theater," adding, "They're not having the opportunity to completely recover from the previous deployment when they go back into theater for the second or third deployment" (Los Angeles Times, 3/7).
The study also found that soldiers are more willing to seek mental health care than they were last year, although access to treatment in remote parts of Iraq and Afghanistan is limited.
Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, a deputy surgeon general, said the Army has sought to provide more counselors in remote areas of Iraq and has considered deployment of civilian mental health professionals into combat areas (USA Today, 3/7).
According to the Times, the study likely will "increase calls by senior Army leaders to cut the length of combat tours and increase the time soldiers have between deployments" (Los Angeles Times, 3/7).
Col. Elspeth Ritchie, psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general, said, "We are working through the details about how we can place motivated, experienced psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers with our troops downrange," adding, "We think that they will be a definite addition to our uniformed providers" (Hartford Courant, 3/7).
Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel Chair Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said, "Mental health problems are just one of the cascading costs we're seeing after a five-year war," adding, "Psychological wounds affect families, both emotionally and financially, just as much as physical wounds" (USA Today, 3/7).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Thursday reported on the study. The segment includes comments from Ritchie, Pollock and Bliese (Raz, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.