Veterans deserve adequate mental health services
Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Updated: Friday, March 23, 2012 05:03
While many insist on the speedy drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan to end the war’s death toll and reunite families, too often they overlook the important role mental health services play in their return.
After coming home from war, it is not uncommon for veterans to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, military sexual trauma and substance abuse.
Recent incidents such as the Afghan civilian massacre committed by an American soldier on March 11 and Iraq veteran Abel Gutierrez killing his 11-year-old sister and himself in Gilroy on March 14 have called attention to the mental health issues soldiers and veterans often deal with and the consequences of them going untreated.
Research from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicates that an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have reported symptoms of a mental disorder or cognitive condition. Untreated mental health problems can result in long-term negative consequences for the affected individuals, their families, their communities and the nation as a whole.
The NSDUH includes questions about military veteran status, major depressive episodes (MDE), and treatment for depression. A 2008 issue of “The NSDUH Report” examined data from veterans aged 21 to 39, an age group that includes veterans with relatively recent service.
Almost all veterans in this age group with MDE reported having experienced some level of resulting impairment in one or more of the domains of home management, work, close relationships with others and social life.
Over half reported severe impairment in at least one of these role domains, and nearly one-quarter reported very severe impairment in at least one of the domains.
Severe or very severe impairment in role functioning was reported by 55.4 percent of these veterans for home management, 41.3 percent for ability to work, 50.4 percent for close relationships with others and 57.7 percent for social life.
In addition to these findings, a November 2011 report showed one U.S. veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan attempts suicide every 80 minutes.
The Center for a New American Security Suicide report revealed 1,868 veterans made suicide attempts in 2009 alone.
Many veterans face dealing with not only mental problems, but also high unemployment and a loss of military camaraderie after returning from tours.
According to the Veterans Affairs mental health website, the Veterans Crisis Line, launched in 2007, has received more than 400,000 calls and saved more than 14,000 lives.
The report states three areas need to be tackled to help prevent further service members from killing themselves, which include keeping units together for 90 days after returning from a deployment to prevent service people from struggling with reintegration, rescinding the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which prevents officers from discussing the weapons privately owned by service personnel, and improving the analysis of veteran suicides.
According to Department of Defense statistics, there were 309 suicides among active-duty and reserve troops in the military in 2009, compared with 160 in 2001.
There were a high number of suicides in July last year with the deaths of 33 service members categorized as suicides, the report said.
President Barack Obama’s recent federal budget proposal has $64 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs for veterans health issues, but according to the veterans organizations, that is not nearly enough to meet the needs.
Right now, all the U.S. troops moving in and out of Afghanistan travel through the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan, and the lease the U.S. has with the country to use the center will expire in June 2014 and the war will end.
Treating the mental health care needs of veterans will be a continuing challenge for the mental health care system for years to come, and as more troops return, the government must make it a higher priority to provide more services to ensure veterans are not left out in the cold.
Identifying and understanding the mental health service needs of military men and women, as well as the need for appropriate medical and therapeutic services, is a critical part of aiding veterans’ successful re-entry into civilian life. Greater services could help curb the negative consequences of depression and other mental and emotional problems for them, their families and their communities.