No one comes home from war unchanged. Soldiers came back from the Civil War with "irritable heart." In World War I there was "shell shock." World War II vets had "battle fatigue." The trouble of Vietnam veterans led to the codification of post-traumatic stress disorder. Actually, it only in the aftermath of the Vietnam War that veterans’ mental health injuries were examined scientifically.
A 1988 study estimated that 15% of Vietnam vets suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but researchers agree that the figure is much higher since many soldiers did not seek treatment out of fear that they’d be seen as weak and/or their career would be negatively affected.
The statistics on Vietnam vets tell a frightening tale of what could happen to the Iraq and Afghanistan vets if they go untreated.
- 23% of the homeless population are veterans (that’s between 529,000 and 849,000 vets)
- 33% of male homeless population are veterans
- 47% are Vietnam vets
- 76% experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems
- 50+% have experienced “clinically serious stress reaction symptoms” including PTSD
- 50% of PTSD sufferers have been arrested or in jail at least once
- 11.5% of these have been convicted of a felony
- 140,000 Vietnam vets were held in State and Federal prisons in 2009
Considering this, the current statistics on recent veterans and PTSD injuries are alarming.
- 1 in 3 Iraq veterans will face a serious psychological injury, such as depression or PTSD.
- 1.5 million people have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Up to 500,000 are returning with combat-related psychological wounds - & multiple tours and inadequate time between deployments increase rates of combat stress by 50%.
- 300,000 troops have been deployed at least three times.
- In 2006, the VA recorded 17,827 cases of returning veterans in need of mental health care. Sadly, the number is probably much higher since many vets did not seek care because of the stigma attached mental health issues.
- Less than 40% of troops with psychological wounds are getting treated – due to a faulty evaluation systems and extremely limited access to care.
- 40,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets have been treated for drug abuse – this doesn’t count the thousands who have avoided treatment or relied on private programs.
- A New York Times article documented a surge in the number of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Aid groups are bracing for a dramatic increase in the years to come. The same article notes that 40% of the hundreds of homeless female veterans of recent wars have said they were sexually assaulted by American soldiers while in the military. Sexual abuse is a risk factor for both homelessness and PTSD.
- The current Army suicide rate is the highest it has been in 26 years: Since the start of the war, there have been a total of 147 military suicides in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the figures are probably higher because no agency or registry keeps track of suicide rates among veterans who have completed their service.
Still, all hope is not lost. With early screening and ready access to counseling, the mental health effects of combat are treatable. Decisive action must be taken now to fix the problems in the mental health system if we are to reach this generation of combat veterans in time.
What can you do?
- Write to your local congressman.
- Write directly to the troops showing your support.
- Support groups like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Veterans for Common Sense. They need a lot of support because they’re the only organizations doing real work on veteran issues.
- Tell people! Many don't know of the problem so educate them - write letters, articles, start an education campaign, organize an event. Show your soldiers that you care.
Sage JournalsNational Coalition for Homeless VeteransUS Department of Veteran Affairs