April 7, 2008 – The Pentagon’s decision last year to extend tours in Iraq and Afghanistan to 15 months from 12 months in order to support the Bush administration’s ill-conceived surge has resulted in the longest Army combat tours since World War II. Moreover, dwell time—time in-between deployments—has been shortened to 12 months as many soldiers are on their second, third, or even fourth tour of duty in either theatre. As a result, soldiers are being pushed beyond their physical and mental breaking points.
The full psychological effect of the war is impossible to estimate, as debilitating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder can take years to appear and last a lifetime. Warning signs, however, are already appearing that indicate soldiers and Marines returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face lasting psychological effects. A review of the problems facing our brave men and women in uniform indicates that not enough is being done to help them.
Overall Mental Health
30 to 40: The percentage of Iraq veterans who will face a serious psychological wound, including depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Multiple tours and inadequate time between deployments increase rates of combat stress by 50 percent.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
One in five: Number of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who show signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Nearly 20,000: The increase in the number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder from the Department of Veterans Affairs in the 12 months ending June 30, 2007, VA records show. This represents a nearly 70 percent jump since June 30, 2006.
30 percent: The percentage of troops returning from war zones who experience some level of PTSD, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
40,000: The number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been treated at a VA hospital for substance abuse.
20 percent: The number of married troops in Iraq who say they are planning a divorce.
42 percent: Number of returning soldiers and Marines who said they felt like “a guest in their own home, ” according to a 2007 poll. The study also found a link between family problems and PTSD, with the two reinforcing each other in a vicious spiral.
Traumatic Brain Injury
150,000 to 300,000: The number of veterans who have suffered a TBI during the war.
30 percent: The percentage of soldiers admitted to Walter Reed Army Medical Center who have suffered TBI.
121: Number of Army suicides in 2007, which amounts to a jump of more than 20 percent over 2006.
2,100: The number of attempted suicides and self-injuries in 2007, as reported by the Army. There were less than 1,500 in 2006 and less than 500 in 2002.
55 percent: The percentage of suicide cases in 2006 that involved soldiers who were serving or had served at some point over the preceding five years in Iraq or Afghanistan.
A Strained System
Over 100,000: The number of mental health diagnoses the VA has already given to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, or 38 percent of new veterans who visited the VA for any reason.
150 percent: The percentageincrease in VA disability pay for PTSD among veterans between 1999 and 2004—or $4.2 billion.
200:1: The ratio that patients outnumber primary care managers in some major military facilities. Until recently, the ratio was 1200:1.
22 percent: The percentage decrease of licensed psychologists in the military in recent years.
We have no greater duty than to ensure that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines who volunteer to defend our country receive not only the best equipment and medical care we can provide, but are supported with programs and policies that improve their quality of life—before, during, and after deployments.
Together with the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Department of Defense, the Congress must do more to repair our social compact with our troops. This includes increasing funding for psychological health care in the military, increasing awareness of these problems, and preparing for long-term care of our returning troops in the years ahead.