Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stunning Numbers of Veterans Suffer Psychological Problems, With No Support

This is what got me involved in all of this back in 1982. No support for far too many. Back then it was all about Vietnam Veterans. It is heartbreaking to see that while we have come closer to getting it right, we have too far to go for anyone to relax on any of this.

Post Deployment Health Reassessment (PDHRA) data show that up to 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of marines suffer from negative psychological symptoms.

Each time I read something like this I am taken back to the dark days when no one knew much of anything, PTSD was a secret to be kept along with everything else that came with it and families suffered in silence. I remember a time when there were no books written by veterans or their families, blogs had not even be thought of and support groups were hard to find. It was a time when I tried to explain all of this to my family but none of them could really understand, especially one of my brothers working in mental healthcare trying to get inner-city kids into college. He found great compassion for a kid growing up with gun violence around them but no compassion for a combat veteran with the same response to being in a violent situation such as war. Back then the best advice my family had was to get a divorce. They had no other response to give because they had no experience to fall back on.

So what's the excuse now? How many more years do we need of research to know that PTSD is real, causes lives to fall apart until there is an intervention and they are helped to heal? How many more years do we have to hear that the sooner they get help the more of their lives they can reclaim only to discover that the help they need is not where they need it to be when they need it to be ready?

Stunning Numbers of Veterans Suffer Psychological Problems, With No Support
Michael Friedman, L.M.S.W.
Adjunct Associate Professor, Columbia University's schools of social work and public health
Posted: January 27, 2011 08:11 AM

Last week's report about suicides of military personnel is a reminder that our nation faces a formidable challenge to meet the mental health needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. Many are struggling with emotional turmoil and diagnosable mental and/or substance use disorders but are not getting the care they need and deserve.

Since October 2001, there have been over 2,000,000 deployments to combat theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan, including 793,000 multiple deployments. With each deployment, service members encounter extreme stress, contributing to unprecedented rates of physical, mental and substance use disorders -- most notably post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, addiction and traumatic brain injury (TBI) -- as well as high rates of suicide, homelessness and unemployment. Extended and repeated absences as well as personal changes among those who have experienced the dangers and horrors of war also take a psychological toll on their families.

Post Deployment Health Reassessment (PDHRA) data show that up to 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of marines suffer from negative psychological symptoms. The Department of Defense recently reported elevated rates of major depression and substance abuse. There are also increased cases of traumatic brain injury.

Untreated psychological symptoms often result in self medication with alcohol and drugs. According to the American Forces Press Service, 21 percent of service members admit to drinking heavily, significantly higher than civilians. Drug abuse among returning service members has also increased. National Guard and Reserve troops also experience mental and substance use disorders at unprecedented rates. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reports that as many as 1 in 4 experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Federal VA has taken steps to increase health and mental health services to veterans. However, over 85 percent of veterans do not access VA health care. Some cannot get access because of the limited capacity of the VA. For others VA facilities are too far away. For many the VA is not the preferred source of treatment. They return to civilian life, hopefully get jobs with health benefits, and use local health and mental health providers rather than the VA. This includes local primary care physicians and mental health professionals, community health centers and hospital-based clinics, mental health clinics, social services agencies, emergency rooms and inpatient services in local general hospitals.
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Stunning Numbers of Veterans Suffer Psychological Problems

I keep going to meetings on PTSD when there are brainstorming questions floating around. I keep asking the same question but not getting any answer that makes sense. Why isn't anyone doing real proactive outreach? Veterans need to know what PTSD is and why their lives changed just as much as they need to know how they can help themselves heal. Families need to know what it is and why their veteran is acting the way they do so they can help them instead of having a negative response making it worse for the veteran and the family. Most of the time this question is not even an afterthought. Yet I know that had I not known what PTSD was, there is no way I would have been able to stick out the dark days so that we could still be together all these years later. It was damn near impossible to do it even knowing what all of this was so the likelihood of families not knowing anything of staying together is just about zilch.

So now we have veterans needing help, facing the fact they need help and reaching out for it, but it is not there. Over 9 years after troops were sent to Afghanistan and then to Iraq but there are still not enough people to take care of the veterans? Will there ever be enough?