Editorial Column: Helping Veterans Suffering from PTSD

Turn Maine Blue

April 7, 2008 – While General Petraeus prepares to testify before Congress this week about future troop levels in Iraq, the Army is expressing strong concerns about the strain that additional tours of duty will place on our service people.

As the son of a World War II veteran, I understand the mental stresses that often plague soldiers returning from combat. When my father returned from war, he suffered from nightmares and other mental stresses – what we now understand to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  
In February, I introduced H.R. 5448 – the Full Faith in Veterans Act of 2008 – to address this problem. The bill will improve diagnosis, compensation, and treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD. By requiring that Veterans Administration employees take sufficient time to diagnose and accurately rate the severity of the disorder, the bill ensures that veterans suffering from PTSD will receive the appropriate compensation and proper treatment needed to live a normal life.

A recent Army survey of soldiers’ mental health shows that 18 percent of noncommissioned officers exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder upon returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. Most importantly, that number increases to 27 percent – or one in four noncommissioned officers – following their third and fourth tours of duty.

The current state of our overstretched military forces requires more soldiers to serve multiple tours and longer deployments without adequate recovery time. Out of the 513,000 active-duty soldiers that have served in Iraq, nearly 200,000 have been deployed more than once and more than 53,000 have been deployed three or more times.

It is clear that multiple tours and prolonged deployments exact incredible stress on our soldiers and their families. The study reports that “soldiers on multiple deployments report low morale, more mental health problems and more stress-related work problems.” “By the time they are on their third or fourth deployments, soldiers ‘are at particular risk of reporting mental health problems.'” [New York Times, 4/6/08]

Tomorrow, General Petraeus will most likely announce that there will be no additional drawdowns beyond those already scheduled, leaving nearly 140,000 troops in Iraq at least until the fall. With a continued occupation in Iraq and ongoing missions in Afghanistan, these long deployments and repeated tours are likely to continue, and the numbers of soldiers suffering from PTSD are likely to increase.

It is imperative that we act now to provide the quality mental health care our veterans deserve. We cannot subject our troops to the pressures of combat without promising them the resources needed to reintegrate into civilian life.  Congress needs to pass the Full Faith in Veterans Act as quickly as possible, and we must set a deadline for a responsible and safe withdrawal of our troops from Iraq.   

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