Friday, July 17, 2009

Worst Case Scenario: We Haz It

There's an absolutely stunning, even though predictable, article in the NY Times. It describes a study just released which deals with the mental health care problems our current war veterans are walking around with.

A new study has found that more than one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who enrolled in the veterans health system after 2001 received a diagnosis of a mental health problem, most often post-traumatic stress syndrome or depression.

The numbers are staggering.

The study, released Thursday, was based on the department health records of 289,328 veterans involved in the two wars who used the veterans health system for the first time from April 1, 2002, to April 1, 2008.

The researchers found that 37 percent of those people received mental health diagnoses. Of those, the diagnosis for 22 percent was post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD, for 17 percent it was depression and for 7 percent it was alcohol abuse. One-third of the people with mental health diagnoses had three or more problems, the study found.

The increase in diagnoses accelerated after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the researchers found. Among the group of veterans who enrolled in veterans health services during the first three months of 2004, 14.6 percent received mental health diagnoses after one year. But after four years, the number had nearly doubled, to 27.5 percent.

Keep in mind that these numbers are somewhat limited insofar as they deal only with veterans who use the VA system. It does not take into account those who have access to and have used private health insurance programs, so the authors of the study themselves have acknowledged that extrapolation to the entire body of returning veterans cannot scientifically be made at this time. While I respect the cautious professionalism of the scientific inquirers, I have a lay person's gut feeling that those numbers will pretty closely hold true for all veterans since the beginning of the two wars. I also believe that as more returning vets find themselves laid off and cut off from affordable health insurance, many will turn to the Veterans Administration for care, so that the numbers will be more in tune with the actualities in fairly short order.

What is just as significant as the numbers, however, are the conclusions drawn by the researchers:

The study’s principal author, Dr. Karen H. Seal, attributed the rising number of diagnoses to several factors: repeat deployments; the perilous and confusing nature of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there are no defined front lines; growing public awareness of PTSD; unsteady public support for the wars; and reduced troop morale. ...

The new report joins a growing body of research showing that the prolonged conflicts, where many troops experience long and repeat deployments, are taking an accumulating psychological toll. ...

“The study provides more insight as to just how stressed our force and families are after years of war and multiple deployments,” said René A. Campos, deputy director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America. “Our troops and families need more time at home — more dwell time, fewer and less frequent deployments.”
[Emphasis added]

To which I say (please forgive the DFH in me), "Well, DUH!"

War is always the last worst option in any situation, but these wars were instigated and run by the most venal and incompetent bunch of blind ideologues of modern history. If the advice given by experienced and thoughtful military leaders didn't match the fantasy based scenario envisioned by the Bush White House and its Neocon vanguard, the advice was ignored and the military leaders so marginalized that they were forced to retire. As a result, our military was broken, and, of course, our national defense weakened dramatically.

Here's the hard part now, however. While President Obama appears to be following through on his promise to reduce troop levels in Iraq, he has also carried through his promise to increase US troop levels in Afghanistan, the "good war" (as if there were such a thing). That means that the multiple deployments will continue, that the various branches of the military will continue to be stressed and stretched when it comes to recruitment and training, and our National Guard continuously called away from their homes and their states, even during times of local emergencies for which those men and women are uniquely qualified.

We will continue to have our already weakened economy driven by off-budget "emergency" appropriations to carry on these immoral wars, and the cost of treating and caring for the soldiers who are trying their best to serve will skyrocket.

This needs to stop. We need to have some real change.


[Note: For the abstract of the study published in the American Journal of Public Health, go here. You can find the link to the entire study in pdf on that page.]

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