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Monday, June 02, 2008

2007 Another Record-Breaker for OEF/OIF Troops Identified with PTSD

From Voice of America:

The U.S. military says newly diagnosed cases of post-traumatic stress disorder [ptsd] among American troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan climbed nearly 50 percent last year, bringing a five-year total to nearly 40,000.

Officials Tuesday released figures that showed Marines and Army soldiers were most affected. These are the forces bearing the brunt of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. ...

Army Surgeon General Lieutenant General Eric Schoomaker says the larger number of diagnoses in recent years partly reflects greater awareness and tracking of the disorder by the U.S. military. But he says increased exposure of troops to combat is a factor. Experts have said symptoms increase as soldiers return to combat for multiple tours of duty.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Short clip from WCN:

Some specifics from AP:

Army soldiers committed suicide in 2007 at the highest rate on record, and the toll is climbing ever higher this year as long war deployments stretch on. At least 115 soldiers killed themselves last year, up from 102 the previous year, the Army said Thursday. Nearly a third of them died at the battlefront — 32 in Iraq and four in Afghanistan. But 26 percent had never deployed to either conflict.

"We see a lot of things that are going on in the war which do contribute — mainly the longtime and multiple deployments away from home, exposure to really terrifying and horrifying things, the easy availability of loaded weapons and a force that's very, very busy right now," said Col. Elspeth Ritchie psychiatric consultant to the Army surgeon general.

"And so all of those together we think are part of what may contribute, especially if somebody's having difficulties already," she told a Pentagon news conference. ...

The 115 confirmed suicides among active-duty soldiers and National Guard and Reserve troops who had been activated amounted to a rate of 18.8 per 100,000 troops — the highest since the Army began keeping records in 1980. Two other deaths are suspected suicides but still under investigation.

So far this year, the trend is comparable to last year, said Lt. Col. Thomas E. Languirand, head of command policies and programs. As of Monday, there had been 38 confirmed suicides in 2008 and 12 more death that are suspected suicides but still under investigation, he said. ...

Suicides have been rising nearly each year of the five-year-old war in Iraq and the nearly seven years of war in Afghanistan. The 115 deaths last year and 102 in 2006 followed 85 in 2005 and 67 in 2004. The rate of 18.8 per 100,000 last year compared to a rate of 17.5 in 2006 and 9.8 in 2002 — the first full year after the start of the war in Afghanistan.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the suicide rate for U.S. society overall was about 11 per 100,000 in 2004, the latest year for which the agency has figures. The Army said that when civilian rates are adjusted to cover the same age and gender mix that exists in the Army, the civilian rate is more like 19.5 per 100,000.

Important piece David Wood via the Baltimore Sun:

Defense Department studies show that suicides among all military personnel in Iraq, including Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps personnel, occur at a rate of about 24 per 100,000, significantly above the civilian rate.

The new figures released by the Army show a 13 percent increase in suicides over 2006, when 102 soldiers took their own lives. ...

According to data gathered by the Army and other services over the past few years, the rising incidences of suicides and severe stress are directly related to the rigors of what Bush administration officials call "the Long War" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Defense Department has sought to increase training to prepare soldiers for the stress of combat, but most troops say the training is inadequate, according to an Army survey of over 3,000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan last fall. ...

According to data released by the Army surgeon general earlier this week, the number of deployed soldiers diagnosed last year with the most severe combat stress, or post-traumatic stress disorder, jumped 46 percent over the number of new cases in 2006, an increase from 6,876 in 2006 to 10,049 in 2007.

Army researchers tied that finding directly to what they said was intensifying combat in Afghanistan and continued high levels of combat in Iraq.

In 2003, when the Iraq war was launched, just over 1,000 soldiers were diagnosed with PTSD. Since then, a total of 28,364 deployed soldiers had been diagnosed with PTSD through December 2007, according to the Army data.

Discouraging that the figures keep ratcheting upward, but sadly that's the reality we have to deal with. A final, but important, note made by Wood and echoed by many:

The data on military suicides and stress released this week are incomplete, Army officers acknowledged. For instance, the suicide data do not include soldiers who leave the Army and later develop mental health problems and often do not include National Guard soldiers who are demobilized after deployment.

Even within the combat zone, the Army's mental health advisory team reported this spring, "there is no single, joint tracking system capable of monitoring suicides, mental health evacuations and use of mental health and combat stress services."

Schoomaker, the Army's top medical officer, told defense reporters Tuesday that the Army does not systematically track soldiers who have lesser forms of stress than PTSD. ... He also acknowledged that the Army has inadequate facilities and too few mental health care providers to meet the need.

"As a nation, our mental health capability is not adequate to the need," and the Army suffers from the same problem, Schoomaker said. He said the Army recognized it is short 300 top mental health professionals to care for the growing numbers of soldiers suffering from severe stress. It has managed to fill only 180 of those positions, he said. ...

Based on its studies in the field, the Army expects that as many as 30 percent of soldiers will return from Iraq or Afghanistan with some symptoms of combat stress. Currently, there are about 155,000 troops in Iraq, including Army soldiers, Marines, Air Force and Navy personnel, and some 33,000 in Afghanistan.

Back to AP for a few more stats:

Other findings in the 2007 report included:

_93 of the 115 suicides were active duty troops; 22 were members of the Army National Guard or Reserve who had been mobilized.

_Five were women.

_In addition to completed suicides, there were 166 attempted suicides among troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and 935 over the whole Army.

_Young, white, unmarried junior enlisted troops were the most likely to attempt suicide.

_Firearms were the most common method for those who succeeded in killing themselves. Overdoses and cutting were the most common for all attempts.

_30 percent of all cases reportedly involved drugs and/or alcohol; rates were higher for failed attempts.

_The majority of people who committed suicide did not have known histories of mental disorders.

_Six percent of suicides and eight percent of attempts reportedly were among people who had prior diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

_Fifty percent of soldiers who killed themselves had recently suffered a failed relationship with a spouse, girlfriend or other loved one.

_Seven percent of those who killed themselves — and of those who attempted to — had served multiple tours of duty to the wars.

_The highest number of attempts occurred among soldiers who were in the second quarters of their tours.

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