Mar 13, 2007

PTSD Rates Among Iraq War Vets Soaring

Some experts believe the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder, the most common mental health problem among veterans, may even begin to exceed that seen among those who fought in Vietnam. Among the reasons cited: Many soldiers are enduring multiple tours of duty and more are surviving severe wounds than ever before.

A study of more than 100,000 veterans who have sought medical care since returning from war shows that nearly one-quarter have mental health problems. Half of those--more than 13,000 people--were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder according to the report to be published Tuesday in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The disorder affects less than 4 percent of the general public.

The unpredictable aspects of combat in Iraq seem to take a mental toll similar to what Vietnam soldiers experienced, said Dr. Chirag Raval, a psychiatrist in the Army Reserves who served in Iraq and is medical director for the mental health intensive case management program at the Hines Veterans Hospital.

"There is no front line to this war," Raval said. With hand-propelled rockets, mortars and improvised explosive device attacks "there is no true safe place in Iraq. You can be anywhere, even on your base, and still not be safe."

More than a generation after 15 percent of Vietnam vets returned with post-traumatic stress disorder, the illness generally carries less of a stigma and has better-defined standards of treatment. But many veterans and researchers say the shame of mental illness persists in military ranks, and soldiers often avoid reporting their symptoms in hopes of preserving their careers.

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