Stress, PTSD Major Concerns for Civilian Contractors
> 7/5/2007 10:51:46 AM

The effects of the U.S. involvement in Iraq on the men and women who serve in the military have been widely reported and discussed. However, there is a second group of Americans, also working daily in harms way, that has received far fewer headlines. This other force is comprised of the over 120,000 individuals working for one of the privately contracted corporations assisting in the rebuilding of Iraq. As the New York Times reported today, these contractors often suffer from the very same mental health related consequences--post-traumatic stress, anxiety, impulse control--as their counterparts serving in the armed forces. But unlike U.S. soldiers, contractor's health problems are not the responsibility of the government, but instead of the same corporations that send their paychecks.

Once they are back stateside these men and women, who serve as truck drivers, engineers, security trainers and other integral personnel, must enter into the health care system used by all Americans. Sadly though, contractors are suffering from PTSD and other mental disorders at rates equal to service men and women, and often finding proper care is difficult and getting it covered can be downright impossible. Today's article makes these struggles clear:

“The availability of mental health care providers with specific expertise in this is scant around the country,” said Dr. Eth, a New York psychiatrist. “You have problems of access to care, financial obstacles to care, and so most of these people are not going to get the help they need.”

AIG, the giant insurance company that provides coverage for several of the largest contractors in Iraq, has paid about half of claims involving P.T.S.D., said Chris Winans, an AIG spokesman. But many of the others are delayed or challenged because the insurers’ medical experts disagree with the diagnoses, Mr. Winans said.

Mr. Pitts, the lawyer, said many contractors lived in small towns or rural areas without access to high-quality mental health workers. But even when he has sent clients to respected psychiatrists or psychologists to confirm the diagnoses, AIG still often contests the claim, he said.

The role of contractors throughout the U.S.'s time in Iraq has changed and always been a source of some hand-wringing. When there are troop shortages or sensitive tasks that need to be completed, many times contractors will be brought in to fill the holes. These practices place contractors in the same line of fire and bring them into proximity with the same risk factors as military personnel, and so it is not hard to see how they might suffer the same results. While no official studies have been conducted on the contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Times reported that DynCorp, a leader in the field, estimated that 24% of their police trainers returned with symptoms of PTSD.

It's difficult to argue that these men and women, who are serving the war effort in another way, are not suffering from mental health problems. Their health care has not been adequate thus far, and the outcomes for these individuals as well as the war effort could be dire. It will fall to the major firms involved, DynCorp, KBR and others, to find a solution to this problem. Their workforces, the forces helping to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, are the ones at risk, so bringing mental health practitioners into the fold and providing treatment could be a beneficial service. It is also possible that training and pre-screening have their own parts to play in this effort. However it happens, this situation needs to be resolved so that the important work of rebuilding can continue.

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