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Veterans' Emerging Mental Health Crisis Archive:
Testimony presented on February 17, 2005, before the VA Veterans Readjustment committee in Washington, D.C.
February 16, 2005
Charles M. Flora, M.S.W.
Dear Mr. Flora,
The following represents the position of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) on the need for mental health intervention for troops leaving the combat zone.
There can be no doubt that the combat experiences of veterans can and often do cause mental health injuries just as debilitating as physical wounds. If left untreated, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological traumas can affect combat veterans to the point that, over time, even their daily functions become seriously impaired. This places them at higher risk for self-medication and abuse with alcohol and drugs, domestic violence, unemployment, homelessness, and even suicide.
No one really knows how many of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been or will be affected by their wartime experiences; despite the early intervention by psychological personnel, no one really knows how serious their emotional and mental problems will become. A study published in the July 2004 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) reported that one in six soldiers and Marines surveyed after returning from deployment in Iraq “met the screening criteria for major depression, generalized anxiety, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” The authors took pains to note that these numbers may understate the prevalence of these disorders. VVA has no reason to believe that the rate of veterans of this war having their lives significantly disrupted at some point in their lifetime by PTSD will be any less than the 37 percent estimated for Vietnam veterans by the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS) conducted almost 20 years ago.
We have anecdotal evidence that supports the authors of the NEJM article, and VVA’s contention that the rate is a third or more. One officer with whom we spoke laughed when we told him that we had been assured by a top official in the Army that there is no longer any stigma attached to returning troops who seek psychological counseling. “A lot of my colleagues seek assistance privately,” he told us, “because if they go through military channels their careers are toast.”
Evidence overwhelmingly supports the need for early intervention and treatment of PTSD and related mental health disorders not only for active duty troops and veterans but for their families as well. Communities, too, need to understand this, particularly in the case of returning members of the National Guard and the Reserves. Many of these men and women cannot be expected to reintegrate into their communities without access to appropriate mental health support services akin to the support afforded to active duty troops at military facilities. The Vet Centers, operated by the VA Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS), must obviously be a key player in this response, as only the Vet Centers have the legal authority to serve the families of veterans, as well as the acumen to serve a population that is very leery of going anywhere near a traditional medical facility, whether run by the VA or by DoD. We believe in the role of the Vet Centers strongly enough that our National President, Thomas H. Corey, included the following in his statement to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs today:
“There are no additional resources provided for the VA Readjustment Counseling Service, or Vet Center, program. This is the most studied program of the VA, and every study, by GAO and others, has found that this is the most cost-effective, cost-efficient program operated by the VA. An investment of $17 million in the Vet Centers would buy one full-time family counselor skilled in grief counseling and PTSD counseling in each of the 206 centers, as well as an additional 40 staff to augment the staff at centers near clusters of the returning veteran population to meet their needs. Vet Centers help keep veterans employed, and help keep their families together. This $17 million would disappear into the rest of VHA without a trace, whereas by setting aside this amount for an increase in the Vet Centers budget will have an immediate, measurable, and very visible impact.”
It is imperative that the key players – the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and top state officials – must coordinate the provision of appropriate mental health programs and services for returning National Guard members and Reserve troops and their families.
Thomas J. Berger, Ph.D.
cc: John Sommers
In The News
Study Results The results of a study entitled "Spirituality and PTSD in Vietnam Combat Veterans" can be found by clicking on the name of the study.
Special Report “Never Shall One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another…” Steve Robinson, Executive Director of the National Gulf War Resource Center*, has just released an excellent report on mental health and the military in Iraq. The report includes a great deal of information that has not received very much press coverage to date. Go to the report - Hidden Toll of the Iraq War: Mental Health and the Military