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Thursday, July 26, 2007

State Deptartment Diplomats Join Troops in Suffering From Combat-Zone Stress

From the Washington Post:

At least 40 percent of State Department diplomats who have served in danger zones suffer some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, Steven Kashkett, vice president of the American Foreign Service Association, said in congressional testimony yesterday.

Troubling medical and psychiatric symptoms have become a growing problem for Foreign Service personnel in recent years, particularly among those exposed to deadly violence in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where diplomats often work and live among U.S. troops, Kashkett told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.

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The State Department has provided limited help for diplomats under duress. After the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad requested mental health services in 2003, the department sent two psychiatrists to assess the environment. In 2004, one psychiatrist joined the U.S. medical team in Baghdad but was moved the next year to Amman, Jordan, and replaced by a social-work counselor, State's medical director, Laurence G. Brown, told the panel. ...

This month, however, the State Department launched the first survey of all State personnel who have served since 2002 in "unaccompanied posts," or areas deemed so dangerous that family members are not allowed. The one-month survey is being carried on the department's internal Web site, and responses are anonymous. So far, half of the respondents said they experienced irritability and unusual hostility, and 35 to 52 percent said they suffered from one or more symptoms common to PTSD -- including social withdrawal, isolation, apathy, insomnia and anxiety -- during or after their assignments.

"Preliminary results from the State Department survey suggest that it may affect some 40 percent or more, similar to what has been reported for the U.S. military," Kashkett told lawmakers. ...

In Iraq, many Foreign Service personnel have been exposed to frequent incoming fire in the Green Zone and sleep in vulnerable aluminum trailers, he told the subcommittee. Others live on forward operating bases in the midst of combat areas, while members of the provisional reconstruction teams are embedded with mobile combat units and are as susceptible to roadside explosives and attacks as U.S. troops, Kashkett said.

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