On July 16, 2009 it was reported that there was an alarming increase in mental illness found in our returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. This news was not that shocking to me, but what was noteworthy is below.
The study of 290,000 soldiers who received VA health care between 2002 and 2008 was reported in the American Journal of Public Health.
For active-duty military, the risk of being diagnosed with PTSD increased four times after the invasion of Iraq, while for National Guard and Reserve members, the risk increased sevenfold.
The new study showed a striking jump in mental illness from findings reported two years ago and indicates that veterans' problems continue to emerge years after they return home.
Researchers said several factors are to blame: Roadside bombs are an unexpected and continual threat that can make everyone who serves feel they're on the front line.
The study was also the first to suggest that National Guardsmen and reservists suffer these wars differently than active-duty soldiers. Army soldiers and Marines younger than 25 had the highest rates of PTSD and drinking. That wasn't surprising, given that they're more likely to see combat and deploy multiple times.
But among National Guardsmen and reservists, it's the soldiers older than 30 who suffer, regardless of the combat they saw. Researchers suggested that being called up from established careers, families and communities make older citizen-soldiers less prepared for combat and less able to move between the two worlds.
"These are not people who live on a base, have a strong affiliation with a unit or maybe ever saw themselves going overseas, at all," said Dr. Karen Seal, the chief author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. "The disparity between their expectations and what they were actually exposed to over there may create a lot of vulnerability to PTSD." (1)
As the data continues to emerge, remember- whatever your views are on the war, our Veterans did not ask for this diagnosis. We must continue to support our Veterans and make certain that they receive the help that they need – even in their darkest hours.
1) Striking jump in mental illness found in Iraq, Afghanistan veterans; Posted by Julie Sullivan, The Oregonian July 16, 2009 21:50PM