Dramatic Increase in Stress & Mental Disorders for Returning Veterans
Staff & Associated Press Reports
More than one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking medical treatment from the Veterans Health Administration report symptoms of stress or other mental disorders - a tenfold increase in the last 18 months, according to an agency study.
The dramatic jump in cases - coming as more troops face multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan - has triggered concern among some veterans groups that the agency may not be able to meet the demand. They say veterans have had to deal with long waits for doctor appointments, staffing shortages and lack of equipment at medical centers run by the Veterans Affairs Department.
Contributing to the higher levels of stress are the long and often repeated tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, troops also face unpredictable daily attacks and roadside bombings as they battle the stubborn insurgency.
Veterans and Defense Department officials said the increase in Soldiers complaining of stress or mental disorder symptoms also may suggest that efforts to reduce the stigma of such problems are working and that commanders and medical personnel are more adept at recognizing symptoms.
"It's definitely better than it was in past generations," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Veterans Affairs officials say they have increased funding for mental health services, have hired at least 100 more counselors and are not overwhelmed by the rising demands.
But still, many returning soldiers say they don't know what services are available to them and say the affects of post traumatic stress disorder can be very devastating to both the veteran and their family. "They don't realize how bad it can get. It can destroy families, personal relationships, it can destroy jobs," said Steve Prince, Veterans Service Rep.
Many soldiers are returning from a place were death and the transition from military service to civilian life can prove to be quite a challenge. Trying to get on with their lives, they are mostly concerned with living a normal life and they do not want to her about psychiatric services available to them.
But there are services and some feel that there are problems with the system or resources available to them. Some say they have felt rebuffed by the federal system and have had inadaquete information about getting benefits.
They're told when they first return, there will be orientations on services. They're told they can either sit around and learn about this or you can go home. Many skip the orientations because they simply want to go home. And many of them don't seek out help.
The state Veterans Administration, the community based outreach clinic in Richland ,and the Veterans Health Adminstration in Walla Walla offer services. If they think they're having a problem, it doesn't cost them a dime.
Veterans we talked to that have used the services want anyone who has returned from active service to know that help that is available.