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Many Veterans Need Mental Health Care

By Rachel Stockton

A new study out of the University of California in San Francisco is focusing on VA data on nearly 300,000 soldiers returning from either Afghanistan or Iraq. The emotional toll the war has inflicted on soldiers is substantial; of the data studied, more than 40% who visited the VA after returning home were treated for mental health disorders. These stats beg the question, “Are we ready to handle the onslaught of potential psychological issues vets will experience once they return home?”

For those of us back home, news clips that emphasize the psychological price we pay during warfare, are disturbing. In May of 2009, one US soldier killed 5 of his comrades at a clinic that specialized in helping soldiers deal with combat stress and personal issues.

As alarming and extreme as this even t was, it emphasized that those who are coming home will not be unscathed by what they’ve experienced, as "war is all hell." Dozens of our soldiers have been to hell; now they are returning home, hoping to take up where they left off.

Of the soldiers studied by Dr. Karen Seal and her team, over 106,000 soldiers were given mental health care. 62,000 were diagnosed with depression and 50,432 were suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. These diagnoses were not discovered in the first year after soldiers returned home, prompting a move to provide 5 years of free health care for vets.

The disorders are the result of more combat experience; those who suffered the greatest were soldiers who had two tours of duty. The full extent of the emotional toll may not be known or fully realized for another twenty years. In fact, the term “post traumatic stress disorder” was coined in an effort to put a name to what some Viet Nam vets were experiencing: anxiety, stress and other combat related symptoms, years after the fall of Saigon.

To help ease the transition, the United States National Center for PTSD has a website devoted to helping soldiers and their families understand some of the challenges the family unit will go through as the soldier attempts to reintegrate. Descriptions of combat stress reactions are explained, along with healthy coping strategies.

The site also deals with the emotional expectations the soldier has, and how those may differ from what his or her spouse is expecting. There is advice on becoming reacquainted; the war experience will have changed, to an extent, every single man and woman who has endured combat.

Years after the war ends, the fallout will still be with us. Hopefully, we will rise to the occasion, relying on the “better angels of our nature” to provide what our soldiers need to help them reenter the world of normalcy.