As the country comes to grips with the violent tragedy that took the lives of 13 and injured 30, we at DoSomething.org are taking this opportunity to focus on the mental health crisis that plagues our nation’s armed forces. The issue can no longer be ignored.
The man suspected of a deadly rampage Thursday at Fort Hood was a military psychiatrist whose had turned against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but was about to be sent overseas, his cousin told Fox News.
Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, wanted to be released from the military before he was set to be deployed overseas, and he even had hired a military lawyer to assist his efforts, according to the cousin, Nader Hasan.
Federal law enforcement officials now say Hasan had been on their radar for at least the past six months because of internet postings where Hasan allegedly discussed suicide bombings and other threats. In them he allegedly compared suicide bombers to G.I.'s who save other troops by throwing themselves on a grenade.
Hasan was scheduled to deploy to Iraq later this month.
The statistics speak for themselves:
- The number of U.S. troops diagnosed by the military with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) jumped nearly 50 percent in 2007 over the previous year, as more of them served lengthy and repeated combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The incidence of PTSD continues to grow as more U.S. troops are exposed to combat.
- The increase brings the total number of U.S. troops diagnosed by the military with PTSD after serving in one of the two conflicts from 2003 to 2007 to nearly 40,000.
- Shockingly, the numbers represent only a small fraction of all service members who have PTSD because not included are those diagnosed by Department of Veterans Affairs workers or civilian caregivers, and those who avoid seeking care out of concern over stigma or damage to their careers.
- Less than half of soldiers with mental health problems seek treatment.
- Army suicides are at a three decade high. At least 140 soldiers killed themselves in 2008, but the final count does not show the whole picture of war-related suicides since it excludes deaths after people have left the military. And, as of April, the Army has reported at least 56 suicides.
So what’s being done?
In an effort to counter the damaging affects of war, the armed forces have imposed mandatory transition counseling aimed at soldiers returning home. The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, launched last year by the Pentagon, is designed to ease the transition home for reservists. The reintegration programs are held on weekends, 30, 60 and 90 days after the soldiers come home. The sessions cover anger management, financial planning and substance abuse, and feature several resources designed to help the soldiers get back on their feet. While many in the military brass consider it an improvement, some say it is not as comprehensive as it should be.
“Mental health problems can surface long after 90 days,” says Lt. Col. Michael Gafney, who runs the reintegration program for the Maryland National Guard. Gafney has been pushing to extend the program to at least a year but has been told there aren’t sufficient funds to cover that. “If we screwed them up, we should fix them,” counters Gafney.
“One thing we’ve learned from this war, we learned from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the previous wars, is not all injuries are physical,” said Major General Daniel P. Bolger, commander of Multi-National Division-Baghdad.
Ethan Brown, journalist and notable author of hyped hip hop tomes “Queens Reigns Supreme” and “Snitch,” would agree. His latest book is an an exposé on the seemingly invisible victims of the war – the soldiers who suffer from PTSD. "The vets I’ve talked to have told me that when they’re over there, there is no point where you can relax mentally because at any moment you or someone in your unit can be blown up. It’s tremendously traumatic and the people who are able to navigate that kind of scenario the best are often the ones who fair the worst when they come home. They find there’s no way to wind down from that on guard 24/7 mentality."
What the future may hold
It was only in the aftermath of the Vietnam War that veterans’ mental health injuries were examined scientifically. The statistics tell a frightening tale of what could happen to the Iraq vets if they go untreated:
- 23% of homeless population are veterans (that’s between 529,000 and 849,000 vets)
- 76% experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems
- In 1998 alone, 56,500 Vietnam vets were being held in State and Federal prisons
Considering this, the current statistics on Iraq vets and PTSD injuries are sobering. The prevalence of mental health injuries among Iraq veterans is equivalent to that of Vietnam vets, and may in fact be higher … AND the wars aren’t over yet. While Obama has set a deadline of December 2011 for troop withdrawal from Iraq, there are no overall troop withdrawal deadlines for the war in Afghanistan. The Obama administration has already begun their plan of flooding Afghanistan with 20,000 more troops.
Still, experts say that with early screening and ready access to counseling, the mental health effects of combat are treatable. The hope is that a formal inquiry into the availability of behavioral health care for American service personnel will reveal the need for early intervention and prompt the armed forces to plan accordingly, including petitioning Obama’s administration to provide the funding.
Want to do something to help our soldiers in crisis? Get inspired by some DS projects:
- Fighting for our Soldiers is working to establish a penpal program between soldiers and children.
- Hidden Costs of War is getting care packages together for the troop, including calling cards so soldiers can hear the voice of a loved one, and fun items they can use in their down time, like board games, decks of cards, or sport balls.