PTSD Becoming a Political Battlground
> 8/18/2006 1:56:35 PM

The debate over mental health funding for veterans returning from Iraq may be moving from slow simmer to steady burn. This thanks to a new report appearing today in the journal Science. Researchers have revisited the landmark study, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, to assess the prevalence of PTSD in the sample and address concerns that many have had with the original results.

As reported by the New York Times, the data from the Vietnam study has been key in deciding how to allocate funds for the care of current returning vets. While several high profile incidents of mental health problems among troops have grabbed headlines, thousands of troops have returned home to face down their experiences with varying degrees of assistance from the Department of Veteran Affairs.

The magic number, established by the original Vietnam study, has been 30.9. That's the percentage of returning vets who will develop lifetime PTSD. 15.2% of vets were found to be suffering from PTSD at the time of the study. In their new reassessment, the new team found that both measures of PTSD were overestimates and in fact 18.7% of vets developed PTSD over the course of their lifetime and 9.1% were suffering with PTSD some 11 or 12 years after the war.

Those who were initially skeptical of PTSD numbers are heralding this new report as final proof, and both sides of the debate are now lining up to fire shots on the ballooning cost of war and caring for our troops.

The troops themselves are the one who are in grave danger of being lost in all of this. Assuming that the new numbers are a more accurate reflection, we are now looking at 1 in 5 troops as opposed to 1 in 3 being significantly effected by their experience. Beyond that, 1 in 10 will likely still be dealing with the effects of PTSD a decade from now. All of this also assumes that troops serving in the current conflict are effected at the same pace and depth as those who served in Vietnam. This is, of course, no guarantee.

PTSD is a serious affliction, and it will be seriously afflicting many of the young men and women who have been stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is only one of many mental health problems that soldiers may face upon returning from battle. While fiscal responsibility is always prudent, the lives of these men and women are invaluable. Doing what is necessary to make sure that their commitment does not destroy the remainder of their lives is the least that we can do. This research threatens to effect budgeting for a department that is already often stretched. We need to make sure that good science isn't used to the detriment of good men and women.

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