Stress, Anxiety Over U.S. Engagements Continue to Create Problems
> 6/20/2006 2:29:08 PM

Two stories in the press today highlight the continued problems facing the Department of Veterans Affairs. The first story, from the Washington Post, discusses how images and reports from Iraq and Afghanistan have stirred up feelings of stress and anxiety in veterans of the Vietnam War. Post traumatic stress disorder really only came to be fully understood and accepted by the mental health community after the Vietnam War ended. Because of this, many of those who faced stress and anxiety disorders after returning from Vietnam were not properly diagnosed.

As the article states, seeing images and reading accounts of events in Iraq have led many older veterans to re-experience their own times in the service.

PTSD researcher John P. Wilson, who oversaw a small recent survey of 70 veterans -- nearly all from Vietnam -- at Cleveland State University, said 57 percent reported flashbacks after watching reports about the war on television, and almost 46 percent said their sleep was disrupted. Nearly 44 percent said they had fallen into a depression since the war began, and nearly 30 percent said they had sought counseling since combat started in Iraq.

Today, practitioners and doctors working with VA have a better handle on symptoms and possible treatments for post traumatic stress disorder and other stress and anxiety disorders. Beyond being able to better recognize the symptoms and disorders in veterans, our society is now much more accepting of the diagnosis and its impacts. Veterans are treated differently, and things like depression, addiction and stress are more likely to be tied to traumatic conflict experiences.

This increased acceptance combined with the reopening of older wounds has led to a surge in cases that VA has struggled to handle effectively. As the Kansas City Star has been reporting, Veteran Affairs has underestimated the mental health services that would be required during and following the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The latest VA report on usage of the agency’s services shows that nearly 5,000 troops were initially diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in the second quarter of this fiscal year. That’s on top of 5,000 PTSD diagnoses made in the first three months.

The Kansas City Star reported last month that the VA had dramatically underestimated the number of troops that would return from the war with the disorder.

The new numbers further underscore just how far off the department was. It had estimated 2,900 new PTSD cases in all of fiscal 2006.

Clearly, the efforts to provide treatment for depression, stress and anxiety related mental health disorders have been miscalculated, but VA understands the nature of the problem, and should continue to adjust its resources to meet the needs of not only returning vets seeking treatment, but also for those older vets who are increasingly presenting for treatment. Just as fighting the battle requires a community effort on the part of the United States, caring for our veterans will continue to be a community effort. A unified voice of support lets our veterans know that there is help and that asking for it is not just the right thing to do, but the only thing to do.

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