PTSD Combat is no longer being updated.

Find Ilona blogging at Magyar Etimológia and Etymartist.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Iraq War's Effects on Former Veterans Goes Nationwide

In April, I wrote about a Lafayette, LA Daily Advertiser article exploring how some Vietnam veterans are affected by the past years' wars. Well, last week, the national media finally went wide with the issue, too. Let's see what the players and veterans have to say about this -- even well-known vets like former Senator Max Cleland.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

Last week, from a front page Washington Post piece:

More than 30 years after their war ended, thousands of Vietnam veterans are seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, and experts say one reason appears to be harrowing images of combat in Iraq. Figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs show that PTSD disability-compensation cases have nearly doubled since 2000, to an all-time high of more than 260,000. The biggest bulge has come since 2003, when war started in Iraq.

Experts say that, although several factors may be at work in the burgeoning caseload, many veterans of past wars reexperience their own trauma as they watch televised images of U.S. troops in combat and read each new accounting of the dead.

"It so directly parallels what happened to Vietnam veterans," said Raymond M. Scurfield of the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast campus, who worked with the disorder at VA for more than 20 years and has written two books on the subject. "The war has to be triggering their issues. They're almost the same issues."

The VA hasn't done any formal studies, but they do agree that the Iraq War is likely a "contributing factor" to the caseload increases they've seen. Meanwhile, others have studied the connection:

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.

"Clearly the current Iraq war, and their exposure to it, created significantly increased distress for them," said Wilson, who has done extensive research on Vietnam veterans since the 1970s. "We found very high levels of intensification of their symptoms. . . . It's like a fever that has gone from 99 to 104."

Vietnam veterans are the vast majority of VA's PTSD disability cases -- more than 73 percent. Veterans of more recent wars -- Iraq, Afghanistan and the 1991 Persian Gulf War -- together made up less than 8 percent in 2005.

The easing (relatively) of the stigma surrounding PTSD is also considered a factor in the rise of reported cases. Veterans groups generally agree.

PTSD is better understood than it once was, said Paul Sullivan, director of programs for the group Veterans for America. "The veterans are more willing to accept a diagnosis of PTSD," he said, "and the VA is more willing to make it."

In addition, as Vietnam veterans near retirement age, "they have more time to think, instead of focusing on making a living all the time, and for some this is not necessarily a good thing," said Rick Weidman, executive director for policy and government affairs at Vietnam Veterans of America.

Max Cleland, a former U.S. senator from Georgia and onetime head of the VA who was left a triple amputee by the Vietnam War, said the convergence of age and the Iraq war has created problems for many of his fellow veterans -- as well as for himself. "As we Vietnam veterans get older, we are more vulnerable," he said. When the war started in 2003, he said, "it was like going back in time -- it was like 1968 again."

Now he goes for therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and is wary of news from Iraq. "I don't read a newspaper," he said. "I don't watch television. It's all a trigger. . . . This war has triggered me, and it has triggered Vietnam veterans all over America."

Of course, as with anything that costs money for the government, the issue is highly politically charged -- some even saying the caseload increase is driven by overdiagnosis or money. Sally Satel, MD perenially leads this charge, leaving her few friends in the veterans community (some refer to her as Silly Satel):

"I'm skeptical that it accounts for a broad swath of this phenomenon," said psychiatrist Sally Satel, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "These men have had deaths in their families, they had all kinds of tragedies over 30 years that surely affected them emotionally but they coped with."

Although a small percentage of veterans might be deeply affected, she said, she doubts "they have become chronically disabled because of it."

A recent VA study, however, seems to counter her opinion:

A study published in February by VA experts showed that veterans under VA care experienced notable mental distress after the war started and as it intensified. While younger veterans, ages 18 to 44, showed the greatest reactions to the war, "Vietnam era VA patients reported particularly high levels" of distress consistently, the study reported.

Powerful images of war have revived combat trauma in the past. "Traumatized people overreact to things that remind them of their original trauma," said Scurfield, the PTSD expert in Mississippi. When the movie "Saving Private Ryan" was released, World War II veterans sought mental health help in great numbers, said Wilson of Cleveland State. "It rekindled it all," he said.

Consider emailing the Washington Post to thank them for their front page coverage of this issue. It's good to see the topic presented and debated, front and center.

Related Posts

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
Want to stay connected? You can subscribe to PTSD Combat via Feedburner or follow Ilona on Twitter.
Later/Newer Posts Previous/Older Posts Return Home

2011: Jan Feb
2010: Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
2009: Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
2008: Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
2007: Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
2006: Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
2005: Sept Oct Nov Dec

Legal Notice

The information presented on this web site is based on news reports, medical and government documents, and personal analysis. It does NOT represent therapeutic prescription or recommendation. For specific advice and information, consult your health care provider.

Comments at PTSD Combat do not necessarily represent the editor's views. Illegal or inappropriate material will be removed when brought to our attention. The existence of such does not reflect an endorsement.

This site contains at times large portions of copyrighted material not specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This material is used for educational purposes, to forward understanding of issues that concern veterans and military families. In accordance with U.S. Copyright Law Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. More information.