U.S. Diplomats Need Help With PTSD
> 8/15/2007 3:08:32 PM

As the war on terror continues, more and more U.S. soldiers are returning from the horror of warzones with post traumatic stress syndrome. The media has extensively covered the problems of military stress, which has resulted in some positive momentum in supplying soldiers with adequate mental health treatment. In focusing on combat personnel, where trauma is expected, the media and the government have overlooked the intense stress plaguing civilian diplomats.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported on an internal State Department study of the effects of stress on diplomats. The study surveyed 2,600 diplomats who had served in "unaccompanied" posts too dangerous for families. With the study made public, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack spoke openly in today's daily brief about the results and their implication:

The findings were that roughly about 2 percent of the people who had served at [un]accompanied posts have suffered from what our medical folks would describe as post-traumatic stress disorder, and possibly an additional 15 percent might.

That "might" represents a pretty big number. McCormack acknowledged that these figures are at odds with much higher statistics presented by the American Foreign Service Association (the union that represents almost all U.S. diplomats). In its summer newsletter, the AFSA cites preliminary results from the Office of Medical Services suggesting that 40% of returning diplomats suffer from PTSD. A sense of crisis pervades the letter:

Foreign Service members assigned to our embassy in Baghdad experience frequent incoming fire in the Green Zone and sleep in vulnerable aluminum trailers.

Even more disturbing is the AFSA assertion that many of their members were stripped of medical coverage and security clearance after complaining about inadequate treatment and pre-deployment counseling. Whether such a coverup took place is not known, but McCormack seemed to be signaling a change to a more open and supportive program. He assured reporters that the new program would not only be available to every diplomat but that it would be mandatory. Mandatory counseling seems ideal because it will not only pick up many of the sufferers who would not self-report, but it also assures that there is no stigmatization of those who voluntarily request help.

McCormack ultimately responded to specific statistical questions by saying that the State Department was going to recheck the methodology of their study and later release a breakdown of individual countries. This country-based list will be useful because it will not allow relatively peaceful posts to skew the average trauma experienced by diplomats in Afghanistan and Iraq. We need to know exactly how much our diplomats are suffering before we can begin to help them.

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