PTSD Rates among Iraq War Veterans

High rates of PTSD reveal greater need for mental health services

veteran with PTSD
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High rates of PTSD in Iraq War veterans are being seen, as well as a number of other difficulties, including alcohol and drug use, and depression. This may not be too surprising to read as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are in the news everyday, and there are reports of their effects on the mental health of the men and women serving there. A majority of service members in Iraq and Afghanistan have encountered traumatic experiences and high rates of PTSD and other difficulties have been found.

Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan definitely need to have mental health services available to them in order to help them adjust and cope with their experiences. In acknowledgment of this, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been attempting to give returning veterans priority for medical and psychiatric care at VA medical centers, as well as to offer programs that are focused on providing early help with any psychological and medical difficulties they may be experiencing.

A New Study on Returning Service Members

A recent study in the journal Military Medicine examined rates of PTSD and the success of these VA programs among 120 service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

They surveyed the returning service members on their PTSD symptoms, depression, alcohol use and their use of VA mental health services. Their findings for mental health problems are quite alarming:

  • 6 percent had PTSD
  • 27 percent showed dangerous alcohol use
  • 6 percent had problems with both PTSD and alcohol use

They also found that 62 percent of service members reported receiving some kind of mental health care since returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan. Of these:

  • 11 percent reported use of medication
  • 13 percent had individual therapy
  • 12 percent had group therapy
  • 10 percent had marital or family therapy
  • 2 percent had treatment for substance use problems
  • 51 percent were involved in briefings and/or debriefings.

What This All Means

The findings of this study suggest that service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from a number of mental health problems, including PTSD and alcohol use. In addition, not all are receiving the care they need.

Although 62 percent reported receiving some kind of mental health care, a good proportion of those surveyed did not. Further, of those receiving care, we do not know the extent and quality of the care they were receiving.

It is apparent that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are having a major impact on the men and women serving there. The VA is taking steps to make sure that these men and women have needed mental health services available to them. However, this study shows that more effort is needed to make sure these services are being sought out and used.

Help for Returning Service Members

If you are a returning service member in need of mental health services, it is important to go to your local VA for help. The National Center for PTSD provides information on what steps you can take to get help. You can also get help through other resources such as the Anxiety Disorder Association of America and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

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Article Sources

  • Erbes, C., Westermeyer, J. Engdahl, B., & Johnsen, E. (2007). Post-traumatic stress disorder and service utilization in a sample of service members from Iraq and Afghanistan. Military Medicine, 172, 359--363.