US Troops Returning with Psychosocial Behavior

A new US study states that more than 1/3 of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from forms of mental illness, including psychosocial behavior. The study, commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs, examined returning veterans who visited a VA Hospital between September 2001 and September 2005.

Throughout history, veterans of wars have suffered from various forms of stress disorders and mental illness. From World War II to the present, the subject of mental illness becomes a topic for debate whenever our troops begin to return home from conflict.

These illnesses are often thought to exist only in extreme cases, but a new study suggests that a significant percentage of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from mental illness. The March 12 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine included a report titled “Bringing the War Back Home”, which studied more than 100,000 US troops who had participated in the nation’s war on terror.

The study was conducted as a collective endeavor that was carried out by the University of California at San Francisco and the VA Medical Center in San Francisco. Conducted by Dr. Karen Seal and 4 of her colleagues, the study looked at 103,788 veterans who visited VA facilities between September 30, 2001 and September 30, 2005.

The study consisted of veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Veterans of both operations had endured high combat stress and were eligible for free medical care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Little was known about the clinical circumstances of mental health diagnosis given to these veterans, which is where the current study comes into the picture.

Of those included in the study, a total of 25,658 vets (25%) were diagnosed as having at least one form of mental illness. An astonishing 56% of those were diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses. When the scope of the study was broadened to also include psychosocial behavioral issues, the number of afflicted troops jumped 32,010 veterans (31%).

“The youngest group of active duty veterans (age, 18 to 24 years) had a significantly higher risk of receiving one or more mental health diagnoses and posttraumatic stress disorder compared with active duty veterans 40 years or older,” the study notes.

The most common affliction was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which occurred in 52% of troops that were diagnosed with a mental illness (13% of all veterans studied). PTSD occurs when someone experiences or witnesses life-threatening traumatic events for prolonged periods of time.

PTSD is often characterized by extreme symptoms, which may include flashbacks, insomnia, nightmares, hypervigilance and a lack of feeling or emotion. Some veterans will also suffer from delayed-PTSD, which may not appear until years after the traumatic event. If not properly treated, the disorder can also lead to other forms of mental illness.

Although Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was the most common illness diagnosed, a number of others were revealed in the study. Many troops were diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Substance Use Disorder, and a number of other behavioral or psychological afflictions.

It should be noted, however, that the study only consists of those who visited a VA Medical Center during the prescribed period, so the figures presented in the study may not be reflective of all soldiers who served in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.