PTSD, depression surfaces in war returnees
February 1, 2008, Charleston, West Virginia — Thirty-six percent of the returnees from fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan suggested in a legislative survey they suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, and 44 percent showed signs of clinical depression.
PTSD, a post-war emotional roller-coaster first examined in Vietnam War veterans, covers a range of symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive thoughts.
Results of the survey, performed at the behest of select committee on veterans this past year, were unwrapped Friday by Dr. Joseph Scotti of the West Virginia University psychology department.
Questionnaires were sent in December to 6,400 state veterans, some of whom had service in Bosnia and Kosovo, along with Vietnam and Somalia.
Scotti’s report to lawmakers showed 550 filled out the survey, and so far, 471 have been analyzed. Another 1,000 surveys never reached veterans because of address changes.
In defense of the anonymous survey, as opposed to a sit-down examination with a clinical psychologist, Scotti said afterward he considers them as reliable, if not more so.
“People tend to be a little more honest on these anonymous surveys,” he said.
“Of course, some people exaggerate and some people downplay. But they do that face to face as well. We have thousands of studies, literally, that are survey-based, and in comparing them to face to face interviews, they’re in very good agreement. I think this is very reliable, valid data.”
Scotti advised the panel’s co-chair, Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, that trained professionals are necessary in treating affected war returnees, but some are reluctant to go.
“It sounds ironic that these people are avoiding exactly what might help the most,” Fleischauer said.
Asked if there’s a difference between talking problems out with friends and family and in going to a professional, Scotti said the latter is the only workable avenue.
“You may share a little bit with your friends or family,” he said.
“You tell your friends and family the horrors you’ve been involved in. They’re not trained to listen. Many therapists do the same thing. They’re not trained to listen to these things. It takes special training when you’re telling these stories.”
Sen. Jon Blair Hunter, D-Monongalia, the other committee co-chair, wondered aloud just what tack the Legislature should take in treating veterans coming home with severe emotional problems.
He got some strong advice from Jack Tincher, head of the West Virginia Veterans Coalition.
“Whatever legislation you write, whatever you do, keep that confidential,” he said.
“The military is a strange animal. They will end your career if you go for help.”
Ninety percent of the veterans indicated they are aware of the services, but 80 percent indicated they would use them if available. Sixty-three percent said they have sought help with PTSD and depression, while 48 percent of the “other veterans” not struggling with emotional stress looked for assistance.
“Is this a uniquely American problem?” asked Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, an emergency room physician.
Staggers also wondered if somehow soldiers gearing up for combat could be “vaccinated” to head off emotional troubles.
“This is by no stretch a uniquely American problem,” Scotti assured her, noting war shows no discrimination in hurting victims.
Larry Linch, director of veterans affairs for the state, implored the panel not to make any distinction between physical and emotional problems of military personnel.
“I’ve got shrapnel in my arm,” the Vietnam veteran said. “There should be not difference in having shrapnel in my arm and having PTSD, and I have both.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org