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Many Returning Soldiers Suffer From Psychological Trauma

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was first brought to public attention by war veterans and there is, again, concern for and among this population. Numerous studies of war and combat trauma demonstrate a link between exposure and posttraumatic sequelae, including PTSD. Important factors for posttraumatic adjustment include individual and family history of mental health problems, the nature of combat, changes in combat experiences, other stress and trauma, physical injuries, and the social and political context to which combatants return.

  • Once called “shell shock, “combat fatigue,” or “battle fatigue,” PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults.

  • Soldiers diagnosed with PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged. In many cases, the symptoms worsen with time, leaving the victims at higher risk for alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, homelessness and suicide (Tyre, 2004). The disorder has increasingly become to be understood as a psychobiological disorder, meaning that biological changes as well as psychological symptoms are often detected.

  • According to a 2003 US Army study, 15-20% of US Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are showing symptoms of PTSD. Even though the VA has seen a tenfold increase in PTSD cases over the last year, nearly two-thirds of veterans who show symptoms do not seek treatment.

  • Studies show that reservists and National Guard soldiers are particularly vulnerable to PTSD. In addition, female soldiers are more at risk for PTSD than male soldiers (i.e., about 20 to 25 percent of the women who served in the Vietnam War and the Gulf War developed PTSD; and psychologists are expecting figures to be at least as high for Iraq) (Spitz, 2004).

  • Dr. William Winkenwerder, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, noted the effects of PTSD on returning soldiers in an interview with National Public Radio. He stated that while 15% of returning troops suffer from PTSD, only 3% admit to it upon initial re-entry. He suspects this discrepancy is due to the fear that if the soldiers report experiencing psychological stress, it would delay their return to their families (Montagne, 2005).

  • According to the National Center for PTSD, the pairing of PTSD with alcohol and drug problems in veterans is not uncommon. Thus it is important to initiate preventive psychological and behavioral interventions to reduce drinking or prevent acceleration of alcohol consumption as a response to PTSD symptoms (National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 2004c).

  • The long-term medical costs to the VA associated with chronic PTSD are staggering. These stem from the symptoms of PTSD itself, from mental health problems frequently associated with PTSD, from the increased medical morbidity associated with chronic PTSD, from the significantly higher medical care utilization among veterans with chronic PTSD, and from the cost of disability compensation to veterans with chronic PTSD.


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