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Friday, August 18, 2006

Updated Vietnam Vet PTSD Numbers

The New York Times today explores the findings of a new study on the rate of PTSD in the Vietnam vet population. I've been doing a lot of reading on this issue this past summer, and can honestly say that another look and attempt to nail down a figure seems more than fair. The numbers are all over the place depending upon what book, account, or study you read.

Probable problems: 1) can we really get a plausible number at this point -- 35 years out, and 2) is this information going to hurt the PTSD care avlb to OEF/OIF vets coming back right now?

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

The report, published in the journal Science and viewed by experts as authoritative, found that 18.7 percent of Vietnam veterans developed a diagnosable stress disorder that could be linked to a war event at some point in their lives, well under the previous benchmark number of 30.9 percent. And while the earlier analysis found that for 15.2 percent of the veterans the symptoms continued to be disabling at the time they were examined, the new study put that figure at 9.1 percent.

Although some may have a problem that the percentage of Vietnam vets diagnosed with a stress disorder such as PTSD has 'officially' dropped from 30.9% to 18.7%, that figure still represents a lot of people. Others agree:

Dr. Matthew J. Friedman, executive director of the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the new study should establish beyond question that post-traumatic stress disorder is both a common and legitimate diagnosis in returning soldiers. “We can quibble about the numbers,” he said, “but the point is that it’s a lot of people,” and the potential demand on services is substantial. ...

The most important figure in the study, most agreed, was the rate of chronic mental suffering [which clocked in at 9.1% in the study]. ”War is not healthy for children, and what this shows is how unhealthy it is, and who has to pay for the lifelong consequences of that,” said Michael Gaffney, a lawyer in Washington who served in an artillery unit in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. “And the meat grinder is still operating, in Iraq.”

What are the worries?

The findings come at a time of simmering debate over the emotional effects of service in Iraq which, with its lack of a conventional front echoes the Vietnam experience more than it does other wars. Politicians have clashed over the Department of Veterans Affairs’ budget, including its $3 billion annual bill for mental health, in part because of a suspicion that the estimated rates of post-traumatic stress, based on Vietnam veterans, were too high. Last year, the department commissioned a review of combat stress disability claims for evidence of exaggeration.

The debate has angered some trauma researchers, and infuriated veterans’ groups who say that as it is, mental health services too often fall short.

From Fox News:

In a rational world devoid of politics, Congress might reasonably restrict benefits to the small minority of veterans whose PTSD claims can be verified against their combat experiences. But in our very different -- sometimes surreal -- world, powerful veterans' lobbies pressure Congress to increase benefits with few if any restrictions, regardless of the relevant facts and science. Not many politicians are willing to be seen as saying "no" to veterans.

This has happened before in the cases of Vietnam, Cold War-era and Gulf War vets making scientifically questionable claims of health effects caused by Agent Orange, nuclear weapons testing, and depleted uranium weapons, respectively. In those cases, the process of science was misused and abused in order to justify broad health care benefits.

But then they say this in the very next paragraphs:

One possible solution is simply for Congress to provide that certain types of military service -- such as any service in theaters of combat, not just actual combat experience, and other forms of hazardous duty -- automatically qualify veterans for lifetime health benefits.

That way, scientific research involving combat veterans will be less politicized and results will be less likely to have been pre-determined and/or skewed by the hidden and not-so-hidden agendas of researchers and their funders.

More coverage:

Please read the whole NYT piece...

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