January 29, 2008 – A growing number of war veterans are returning to their lives in Bucks County with mental health issues, military and mental health officials said Monday.
At a forum in Lower Makefield organized by Congressman Patrick Murphy, D-8, Bucks County law enforcement officials were told that a number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The disorder is caused by intense, traumatic events such as combat.
One in six veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from the disorder and one in three show symptoms of the disorder, also known as PTSD, according to Murphy, an Iraq war veteran.
Wary of the stigma of mental illness, many veterans ignore the signs of the disorder, which might lead them to hurt themselves or others before they are able to seek treatment, Murphy said.
“There’s a real level of denial,” said Carol Bamford, director of case management and crisis services with the Bucks County Department of Mental Health. “We need to convince these people that it’s not going to hurt just trying to talk to somebody.”
Veterans of all wars have suffered from the effects of PTSD, although the disorder was not recognized by the mental health community until years after the Vietnam War. Officials with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are screening returning soldiers for this and other mental disorders, however, many veterans slip through the cracks, according to Dan Fraley, county government’s director of veterans affairs.
There are roughly 60,000 veterans living in Bucks, the fourth largest veterans population in the state, Fraley said. Since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan about 15 veterans of those wars have requested help from the county’s veterans services with eight Bucks soldiers filing claims for treatment from PTSD, Fraley said.
“We’re starting to see more of them,” Fraley said.
“It’s something we are all going to deal with,” said James Goss, a manager with the PTSD program at the Coatesville VA Medical Center in Chester County. “The good news is that it’s readily treatable.”
However, the problem addressed by some of the law enforcement officials at Monday’s meeting was that, due to medical privacy laws, it would be almost impossible to know which veteran was suffering from PTSD.
“I’d personally like to see us try to get out at the front of this problem, not at the end,” said Barry Pilla, Northampton chief of police and a Vietnam veteran. “I just don’t see a lot of people coming to us and saying: “I have PTSD.’ ”
Murphy said Monday’s meeting was the “first step” in dealing with the issue.
“You are on the front line of dealing with this and really being aware of it,” Murphy said. “This is just the first step in trying to combat this.”
Murphy represents the residents of Bucks County, some districts of Abington, Upper Dublin and Upper Moreland in Montgomery County and two wards in Philadelphia.