Monday, November 26, 2012


As I reported last month in Newsweek/The Daily Beast, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) quietly released a new report recently on post-traumatic stress (PTSD) showing that nearly 30 percent of the 834,463 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans treated at VA hospitals and clinics have been diagnosed with PTSD. 

But a new nationwide survey from the American Psychiatry Association reveals even more troubling findings about PTSD as well as other mental health issues among post-9/11 war veterans. 

The study, which analyzed recent Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to improve understanding of mental health services use and perceived barriers, showed that 43 percent screened positive for post-traumatic stress (PTSD), major depression, or alcohol misuse.

If these numbers don't represent a real crisis among our veterans, and beg for a nationwide call to action to support our veterans, I don't know what will.

The National Post-Deployment Adjustment Survey, published by, randomly sampled post-9/11 veterans separated from active duty or in the Reserves or National Guard. Most received care at VA facilities, although interestingly, women were more likely than men to seek non-VA services. 

Veterans with more severe symptoms reported greater treatment utilization. Eighteen percent saw a pastoral counselor (chaplain) in the past year. 

Veterans with mental health needs who did not access treatment were more likely to believe that they had to solve problems themselves and that medications would not help. Those who had accessed treatment were more likely to express concern about being seen as weak by others. 

This just shows that, despite efforts by some at the VA as well as at the Department of Defense, the stigma of PTSD and other psychological problems many veterans face is still very real and prevents many veterans from seeking help.

Veterans in greatest need were more likely to access services, according to the study's conclusions. More than two-thirds with probable PTSD obtained past-year treatment, mostly at VA facilities. 

The researchers in the study concluded that treatment for veterans may be improved by increasing awareness of gender differences, integrating mental health and pastoral services, and recognizing that alcohol misuse may reduce utilization. 

The researchers also said that veterans who had and had not used services had different perceptions about treatment, indicating that barriers to accessing care may be distinct from barriers to engaging in care.

The bottom line is, hundreds of thousands of veterans coming home from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and returning to civilian life have serious mental health issues that must be addressed.

Not just from the VA, but from all of us. We have a moral obligation to help our war heroes successfully reintegrate into society. They have earned our respect and support; they must not be forgotten.

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