Quarter of US War Vets Have Mental Disorder: Study

A quarter of the Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans treated with US government-funded health care have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, according to a study published this week.

And when psycho-social disorders such as domestic violence were included, the number of war veterans suffering from mental illnesses rose to 31 percent.

The instances of mental illness among recently discharged troops and members of the National Guard are significantly higher than those of a study published last year which examined active duty troops, the lead researcher said.

That study found that while a third of returning troops were accessing mental health services, only 12 percent were diagnosed with a mental illness or psychosocial disorder.

“That’s a big difference,” said Karen Seal, a physician and researcher at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Of significant concern was the finding that 56 percent of those diagnosed had more than one mental illness, Seal said.

“When people have more than one diagnosis they become more challenging to diagnose and, more importantly, we believe are more challenging to treat,” she explained.

The study comes just days after the Bush administration vowed a “comprehensive review” of veteran care following revelations that soldiers being treated at the renowned Walter Reed Army Medical Center were living in a building with mold-covered walls, infestations of mice and cockroaches and holes in the ceiling.

That scandal exposed a broader problem with the under-funding of the VA system, said Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

With a backlog of more than 860,000 medical claims and waiting times of up to a year for treatment, many of the troops coming home are not getting the help they need, Davis said.

And that includes treatment of mental disorders, which are a predictable result of the kinds of stresses troops face under combat, Davis said.

“War changes everybody and everybody is going to have to deal with it in one way or another,” Davis said.

“The military is not doing enough on the preventative side or the treatment side because the military’s role is to patch them up and send them to the VA. The VA is not doing enough because they did not prepare for the huge influx of new customers coming in from the wars and they haven’t budgeted for it.”

Early detection and treatment is critical, the study authors wrote, if the military is to prevent chronic mental illness among troops “which threatens to bring the war back home as a costly personal and public health burden.”

The results also “signal a need for improvements in the primary prevention of military service-related mental health disorders, particularly among our youngest service members,” the authors concluded.

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