Having lived half my life outside the United States, I fell in love with my country when I left it, and have since become dedicated to Patriotic causes. The only thing I can give back is therapeutic and financial support to the men and women who are willing to give their lives to protect the values that have made our country great. So I wanted to share what the long term psychological cost of this war has been. I have seen it up close after volunteering as a counselor at Standown House, http://www.standown.org/ a homeless shelter for veterans in Lake Worth and I wanted to share some recent statistics.
In a study, published in the July 16, 2010 edition of the American Journal of Public Health, it was reported that almost 40 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are receiving health care from VA hospitals for one or more mental disorders.The study’s principal author, Dr. Karen H. Seal, an assistant professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco,said: When the definition is expanded to include diagnoses of mental health disorders or psychosocial behavioral problems such as homelessness, or both, 43 percent of veterans receive these diagnoses. These figures are based on the health records of 289,328 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans entering Veterans Affairs (VA) health care from April 1, 2002 to April 1, 2008 at the San Francisco Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco. This number accounts for about 40 percent of returning veterans.
If previous history with Vietnam-era veterans is any guide, the burden of mental illness will follow these veterans for many years to come.
Many veterans had several mental health problems. In fact, 29 percent of veterans with mental health issues were diagnosed with two different conditions, and 33 percent were diagnosed with three or more. Women were at higher risk for depression than were men, but men had over twice the risk for drug use disorders. It is important to note that substance abuse is a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.(PTSD)
Greater combat exposure was associated with higher risk for PTSD. The incidence of mental illness among veterans is accelerating Dr. Seal states that, “What’s really striking is the dramatic acceleration in mental health diagnoses, particularly PTSD, after the beginning of the conflict in Iraq,” The increase in mental illness diagnoses the researchers found, accelerated from 4 to 7 times. Dr. Seal attributed the rising number of diagnoses to several factors: repeat deployments; the perilous and confusing nature of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there are no defined front lines; growing public awareness of PTSD; unsteady public support for the wars; and reduced troop morale. It can take years for Anxiety Disorders such as PTSD to develop. Dr. Seal said often it takes more than a year for symptoms of PTSD to appear and diagnosis to be made.
The results of the study reported on in this article are distressing for two reasons: so many veterans are returning home, burdened by a load of psychological anguish and mental illness that will follow them the rest of their lives; and it is heartbreaking to think of the millions of veterans of former wars whose mental disorders went undiagnosed, and whose lives were lived out in pain and frustration. Please remember our troops and know that even one person caring can change a life.