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Characteristics of Iraqi and Afghanistan Veterans

Symptoms of major depression, severe anxiety, and PTSD were found in 17% of Iraqi and 11% of the Afghanistan veterans. Proactive attempts are being made as PTSD wasn’t a recognized disorder during the Vietnam era. The 2004 study suggested that rates may increase over time and the course of the chronic condition needs time to be more extensively examined.

Most significant is the fact that more than 60% of those soldiers who met criteria for mental health disorder had not obtained help for fear of being stigmatized or for the effects on their careers. No place in Iraq is safe from attack (ground attacks, mortars, and IEDs), so soldiers have little down time.

A Persian Gulf War study found that rates of PTSD increased significantly within two years after the initial evaluation. More than 90% of soldiers returning from Iraq report being shot at compared to 66% of the Afghanistan veterans. Hyper vigilance is significant due to fact that 70% of injuries and death are due to the IED in Iraq.

A 2007 study of 103,788 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan seen at VA facilities found that they endured high combat stress: 25% received mental health diagnoses, 56% of whom received 2 or more diagnoses. 31% received mental health and/or psychosocial diagnoses. (Seal, KH, et al., Arch Intern Med)

60% of initial mental health diagnoses were made in non-mental health clinics. At greatest risk for PTSD or other mental health diagnoses were the veterans in the 18 to 24 year-old range, compared to those 40 years and older. The vulnerability of youth is consistent with Vietnam veteran findings. The younger age group may be exposed to more combat situations, but this factor remains unexamined.

The most common diagnosis is PTSD, 13% comparable to 15% for the Vietnam veteran.
Following PTSD in frequency are diagnoses of anxiety, adjustment disorder, depression, and substance abuse, including alcohol abuse. If more than 30 percent of Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans are diagnosed with mental health and/or psychosocial disorders, 500,000 of the 1.6 million soldiers who served need mental health assistance.

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Marines in Fallujah, 2006 (U.S./Wikimedia)