OEF and OIF Veterans and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

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Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) were the names given to U.S. missions in the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq War. These armed conflicts have resulted in a high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans.

The veterans of these wars had tours that were longer than those of previous military conflicts, with less time between deployments. Because many more soldiers survived their injuries than soldiers of previous wars did, these conflicts produced more veterans. The net effect: Numerous veterans and a high incidence of PTSD than ever before.

How Prevalent Is PTSD Among OEF/OIF Veterans?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 11% to 20% of OEF/OIF veterans have PTSD in any given year and may be at risk for other mental health problems.

PTSD was more likely to be diagnosed in service members several months after they returned from these two conflicts, rather than right away.

Operation Iraqi Freedom and PTSD

OIF started with the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, and officially ended in 2011 when the U.S. and its allies withdrew its forces. Soldiers returning from Iraq (many of whom served multiple deployments) were at high risk of PTSD, in large part because they had faced many combat stressors that can contribute to the condition.

According to the VA, some 95% of OIF combat veterans reported seeing dead bodies. Meanwhile, 93% said they had been shot at, 89% said they had been attacked or ambushed, 86% received mortar or rocket fire, and 86% said they knew someone who had been seriously injured or killed.

Operation Enduring Freedom and PTSD

OEF was launched by the U.S. and its allies as a response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that brought down the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon.

The attacks were linked to al Qaeda, a terrorist group operating in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban. In October 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in an effort to oust the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda. Operation Enduring Freedom lasted for 13 years until December 2014, when the U.S. and its allies ended their combat mission in Afghanistan.

Although OEF combat veterans generally don't suffer from PTSD at the same rates as OIF veterans, significant numbers who participated in this conflict also experienced combat stressors, according to the VA.

Among a study of OEF veterans:

  • 84% said they had received mortar or rocket fire
  • 66% said they had been shot at
  • 58% said they had been attacked or ambushed
  • 43% said they knew someone who had been seriously injured or killed
  • 39% said they had seen dead bodies.

Mental Illness in OEF/OIF Veterans

Up to 18% of OEF/OIF veterans suffer from PTSD; these veterans also are at high risk for other mental health problems.

Specifically, depression has affected between 3% and 25% of these veterans Veterans also have had difficulties with drinking and excessive tobacco use, the VA says.

Ways You Can Help

Unfortunately, even though we know PTSD is very common among veterans and treatments are available, too many veterans aren't seeking help. The Department of Defense realizes the problem and is taking measures to reduce the stigma.

Veterans no longer need to report that they are seeking mental health treatment for combat-related reasons.

The military is also trying to spread the word that symptoms such as PTSD are normal after experiencing the stressors of war.

Many vets are sharing their stories to help fight the stigma and allow others to speak up about their struggles.

Families and support systems are crucial for the person who has PTSD. Few people experience PTSD in isolation, and it's important the concerns and needs of family members of those who serve are recognized as well. In addition, it's been noted in a few studies that dependents of veterans who develop PTSD as a result of the stressors or war may have an increased risk of developing PTSD as well.

Resources for Veterans With PTSD

If you are living with PTSD but don't know where to start, there are resources available. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD is dedicated to research and education surrounding PTSD. Other ​military resources are available which can help with the spectrum of mental health concerns and more that concern veterans.

In addition to mental health support, there are VA drug rehab services, which can go hand in hand, as many people with PTSD related to the stressors of war self-medicate.

A Word From Verywell

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What percentage of OIF/OEF troops have PTSD?

    Up to 18% of OEF/OIF veterans have PTSD. They're also at high risk for other problems, such as depression and alcohol use disorder.

  • What were the dates of Operation Iraqi Freedom?

    Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) began on March 20, 2003, and officially ended in 2011 when the U.S. and its allies withdrew its forces.

  • What are some common problems for women veterans who served during OEF/OIF?

    Female veterans of these conflicts have about the same rates of PTSD as their male counterparts. However, they often faced the additional stress of serving as primary family caregivers, both while deployed and after returning home.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Marx BP. Posttraumatic stress disorder and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom: Progress in a time of controversyClinical Psychology Review. 2009;29(8):671-673. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2009.02.004

  2. Hoge CW, Castro CA, Messer SC, McGurk D, Cotting DI, Koffman RL. Combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental health problems, and barriers to careN Engl J Med. 2004;351(1):13–22. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa040603

  3. Burnam MA, Meredith LS, Tanielian T, Jaycox LH. Mental health care for Iraq and Afghanistan War VeteransHealth Aff (Millwood). 2009;28(3):771–782. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.28.3.771

  4. Kline A, Falca-Dodson M, Sussner B, et al. Effects of repeated deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan on the health of New Jersey Army National Guard troops: implications for military readinessAm J Public Health. 2010;100(2):276–283. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.162925

  5. Teeters JB, Lancaster CL, Brown DG, Back SE. Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challengesSubst Abuse Rehabil. 2017;8:69–77. doi:10.2147/SAR.S116720

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Military Service Members and Veterans. Know the facts.

  7. Acosta JD, Becker A, Cerully JL, Fisher MP, Martin LT, Vardavas R, Slaughter ME, Schell TL. Assessing the Department of Defense's approach to reducing mental health stigma. RAND Res Brief. 2016. doi:10.7249/RB9881

  8. U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. Treatment of co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorder in VA.

Additional Reading

By Matthew Tull, PhD
Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder.