Friday, February 10, 2006

One-Third of Iraq Vets Suffer From Post-Traumatic Stress

Escaping the attention of the mainstream media at the end of January was a panel held by mental-health professionals at the National Press Club in Washington, in which it was revealed that up to one-third of Iraq war Veterans will suffer from some degree of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Speaking on the panel was Antonette Zeiss, deputy chief consultant for mental health services at the Department of Veterans Affairs, who said that up to 40,000 soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan show symptoms of PTSD.

Zeiss said 120,000 soldiers have sought health care, and that 31 percent of them are being reviewed for possible mental health disorders, with the prevailing diagnosis being PTSD. A big difference from previous wars, she said, is that 13 percent of those soldiers are women.

PTSD, which commonly arises from prolonged exposure to combat and the ongoing threat of death or serious injury, is characterized by recurrent thoughts of trauma, reduced involvement in work or outside interests, hyper alertness, anxiety and irritability. Alcoholism and drug abuse are also common among Veterans suffering from PTSD.

Complicating matters is that improved technology and better medical techniques are now resulting in returning Veterans having survived harrowing wounds that might have killed them in previous wars and having to deal with both physical and emotional trauma upon returning home.

Brad Blog did an excellent job covering the sad tale of Douglas Barber, a 35-year-old Iraq war Veteran, who shot and killed himself on January 16 with a shotgun.

“All is not okay or right for those of us who return home alive and supposedly well. What looks like normalcy and readjustment is only an illusion to be revealed by time and torment,” wrote Barber, in an e-mail about a year before his death and published on Brad Blog. “Some soldiers come home missing limbs and other parts of their bodies. Still others will live with permanent scars from horrific events that no one other than those who served will ever understand.”

And there are many other Veterans like Douglas Barber.

A Brief Primer on the Mental Health Impact of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by the National Center for PTSD, reports that “the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the most sustained combat operations since the Vietnam War, and initial signs imply that these ongoing wars are likely to produce a new generation of veterans with chronic mental health problems associated with participation in combat.”

“Initial evidence indicates that combat operations in Iraq are very intense,” says the report. “Soldiers in Iraq are at risk for being killed or wounded themselves, are likely to have witnessed the suffering of others, and may have participated in killing or wounding others as part of combat operations.”

The National Center for PTSD also reports the following alarming statistics that map directly to increased rates of PTSD among Iraq war Veterans:
  • 94 percent of soldiers in Iraq reported receiving small-arms fire
  • 86 percent reported knowing someone who was seriously injured or killed
  • 68 percent reported seeing dead or seriously injured Americans
  • 51percent reported handling or uncovering human remains
In addition, over three-quarters of soldiers deployed to Iraq reported shooting or directing fire at the enemy, 48 percent reported being responsible for the death of an enemy combatant and 28 percent reported being responsible for the death of a noncombatant.

Finally, the report concludes that the Iraq war will create a whole new generation of mental health problems in America due to the unique conditions of this war – including that much of the conflict in Iraq, particularly since George W. Bush made his false claim that major combat operations had ended, has involved guerilla warfare and terrorist actions from ambiguous and unknown civilian threats.

“In this context, there is no safe place and no safe role. Soldiers are required to maintain an unprecedented degree of vigilance and to respond cautiously to threats,” said the report.

Meanwhile, most of these revelations receive absolutely no publicity in the mainstream media and, if you do a search on Google News, you’ll find that the Washington panel on January 27 received almost no coverage.

Which makes this all the more distressing and sad. In addition to the horrible toll that Bush’s war is exerting on America’s military people – and it is a toll that will last a lifetime – these brave people bear the additional burden of returning to a country that seems destined to remain ignorant about the true magnitude of their sacrifice.