Study: A fifth of war veterans have mental health issues

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 4, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Nearly 20 percent of the more than 2 million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from mental health conditions, according to a new report.

They amount to more than half of the 712,000 veterans from both wars who have sought medical treatment since leaving military service. Nearly a third of those veterans may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, one of the signature injuries of the conflicts.

Veterans for Common Sense, a nonprofit, nonpartisan activist group for veterans' interests, and health care issues in particular, compiled the statistics from a raft of government reports.

In whittling them down to just the bare data, the group created a grim shorthand for the toll the wars have taken on a generation of young men and women.

"A large number of people serving overseas have mental health impacts, and more and more are coming home," said Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "I am deeply concerned that we are not ready."

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which is trying to grapple with the wave of new and damaged veterans, has been under considerable stress. In a related development this week, an internal VA survey requested by Murray's committee found that its staff doesn't think it has the resources to handle the growing demand from new veterans for mental health services.

Paul Sullivan, the executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, said that in 2003, the government expected that the VA would see about 50,000 new patients from both wars. With nearly three-quarters of a million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans already in the VA system, he said, the long-term estimate was "ominous."

"More than 1 million total patients from the wars by the end of 2013," Sullivan predicted.

His group summarized health care data on veterans based on reports by the VA, the Department of Defense, congressional testimony and its own work over the years.

Of the 109,000 casualties since combat in Iraq and Afghanistan began, 6,200 troops have been killed. Among those were 298 war-zone suicides, according to the study. Overall, it reported 2,300 active-duty suicides since 2001.

Suicides have been a persistent problem, underscoring the stress that 10 years of war have placed on the troops as a result of multiple deployments. In 2009, suicides exceeded deaths in combat.

The study said that nearly 1 million troops — 42 percent of all service members sent to the combat zones — have been deployed at least twice.

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