Over the past decade, post-traumatic stress disorder has become increasingly among troops who have participated in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A large study from the RAND Institute, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis, reported that one in five servicemen return home from those wars with PTSD. The year 2009 saw the number of troops hospitalized for PTSD and other mental health problems exceeding the number hospitalized for any other cause, including combat-related injuries.
Despite the growing evidence of a mental health epidemic among American troops, efforts to prevent and alleviate PTSD have met little success. The increased rate of post-traumatic stress disorder is linked several factors unique to the current occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The factor that is perhaps most responsible is the increased (in comparison with previous wars) length and frequency of deployments to these combat areas. In addition to longer multiple deployments, the “backdoor draft” that is effectively created by the current “Stop Loss” policy has extended the enlistment period of 60,000 troops, thus placing greater demands on the National Guard and military reserves. The increased risk of PTSD is also linked to the use of high-tech urban guerilla-type was tactics in war zones where the “enemy” can be virtually anyone and everyone. For these and other reasons, some troops experiences great difficulty coping with their experiences and adapting to society after they return home.
Due to the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses among active military troops and veterans, suicide rates have been skyrocketing. Since 2005, the suicide rate among American soldiers has doubled, with suicides occurring at the highest rate in the past thirty years. PTSD in soldiers may also have disastrous consequences for military families: veterans with PTSD are more likely to commit acts of domestic violence than those without PTSD.
Despite the increase in post-traumatic stress disorder and the growing suicide epidemic among American soldiers, interventions on the part of health providers for traumatized veterans remains inadequate. For example, it has been reported that, at the Army’s top hospital, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, soldiers flown in with physical injuries received excellent care while those who are mentally wounded with post-traumatic stress disorder receive mediocre care.
It is clear that the post-traumatic stress disorder epidemic is not being taken seriously enough by our military or our policy makers. Unfortunately, there still is no sign that the rate of PTSD among soldiers and veterans is leveling off; apparently, many more American soldiers are destined to develop this often-debilitating psychological illness.
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Researchers: Jacquelyn Casey, Melanie Macri, Tricia Davidson, Siena College
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Mo Hannah, Siena College