A new study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry reported that about 17% of veterans who were deployed in an active combat role to Iraq and Afghanistan exhibited symptoms associated with PTSD. This suggests that PTSD in the military has increased in the last 10 years.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of veterans suffering from PTSD varies by service area.
- Iraq Veterans: Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operations Enduring Freedom OEF) – between 11 to 20% (11-20 out of every 100 veterans) have PTSD in a given year
- Gulf War Veterans – about 12% have PTSD in a given year
- Vietnam War Veterans – about 30% have had PTSD in their lifetime.
PTSD Among War Veterans Fast Facts:
- Over half a million soldiers developed “battle fatigue” during World War II. In 2004, more than 25,000 WWII veterans are still receiving disability compensations for PTSD
- In 2008, over 1 million PTSD cases were reported by the Veterans Administration, of which 299,978 of those are receiving compensation.
- A study of Korean War veterans in Australia revealed that up to 33% of those soldiers met PTSD criteria.
- Among US citizens, about 30% of PTSD cases are caused by combat experience.
- The Rand Corporation estimates that 1 out of 5 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD.
- Veterans with traumatic brain injury have an increased risk of developing PTSD symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- A study published in the American Journal of Public Health reported that veterans below 25 years old had higher rates of PTSD than veterans over the age of 40.
- More than 50% of soldiers suffering from a psychiatric disorder thought they should handle the problem on their own, according to a Cochrane study.
- Among Vietnam veterans, those with PTSD had higher rates of cardiovascular problems than veterans without PTSD.
- Soldiers who served only one deployment had a lower risk of developing PTSD than soldiers who served two combat deployments.
- Soldiers with adequate social support and high psychological resilience were less likely to develop PTSD.
Reasons why veterans do not seek treatment for mental health issues
A non-profit research institute (Rand Corporation) questioned soldiers about their reasons for not getting treatment for their mental health problems. The most common concern of veterans was “possible side effects of medication.” They were also concerned about the effect of psychiatric diagnosis on their career and on the perception of their peers.
- Potential side effects of medications
- Effects of seeking treatment on one’s career
- Possible security clearance rejection
- Family and friends could be more helpful than a medical professional
- Effects of seeking treatment on coworker’s perception
Authors of After the War Zone, Laurie Slone and Matthew Friedman, explain the mindset of veterans that prevents them from seeking treatment:
“You may fear that if you admit to needing mental health assistance, you’ll be ridiculed by your peers, seen as weak or cowardly, and considered unsuitable for military service because you weren’t tough enough to ‘suck it up.’ You may be afraid that seeking treatment will label you negatively and even damage your career.”
The government agency (Veterans Administration) in itself affect the confidence of war veterans in seeking treatment. Of those who seek help, only about half get appropriate treatment. There are many reasons for the lack of quality care in the agency and one of them is a shortage of mental health professionals trained to handle PTSD cases. The bureaucratic obstacles to justifying claims drive many veterans who need help for their PTSD to just give up. Some of the complaints from veterans include “you have to wait for everything,” or “they don’t have enough fund or staff.”
What’s even more troubling is that soldiers’ spouses may also develop their own mental health problems as they attempt to cope with their partner’s symptoms. In addition, the family of war veterans also suffer from extreme financial hardship and readjustment problems. In a 2005 report, Houppert estimated that half a million veterans never received the benefits to which they were entitled.
PTSD and Family Support
In order to foster a strong support system for the recovery of the veteran’s mental health, the Veteran’s Administration put various programs in place to strengthen and assist veterans with mental health issues. Services that offer information and therapies for families are also available free of cost:
- Family education – provides training for families to know what to expect and how they can help in their loved ones’ recovery.
- Family consultation – a mental health treatment team meets the veteran and at least one family member for a few sessions. The provider helps participants work together to resolve issues such as medication concern or conflict around money issues.
- Family treatment – designed to help veterans and their families develop the skills, knowledge, and attitude to cope with PTSD and other mental health issues.