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By Peter S. Gaytan
As veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war return home, a significant number of them suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s not a new mental illness. Although not formally recognized until 1980, it’s been recognized through the centuries that the stresses of combat could produce long-lasting psychological effects. Earlier, PTSD was described in various ways such as shell shock, battle fatigue, and accident neurosis.
The inclusion of PTSD in the third edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980 marked an important step for psychiatric theory and concept because it made clear that PTSD is dependent on an outside event, not a personal weakness or flaw. That’s important for veterans to remember. Having PTSD is not a reflection of the strength of a servicemember’s character. It is a result of exposure to a traumatic event.
According to the VA, 11 to 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD. Left untreated, the disorder can mentally cripple the vet. Veterans account for 20 percent of all suicides in America. According to Representative Ann Marie Buerkle, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Health of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, “Eighteen veterans commit suicide each day with almost a third receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs at the time of their death. Each month there are 950 veterans being treated by VA who attempt suicide. What’s more, data from the Department of Defense indicate service members took their lives at an approximate rate of one every 36 hours from 2005 to 2010.”
VA is working to shorten wait time for appointments with mental health professionals, as well as ensure that VA doctors have the necessary resources to treat returning wounded. It is critical that VA take the necessary steps to help the growing number of veterans entering the VA Health Care System with mental health problems. We must reach out to those in need and guarantee that they get that help in a timely fashion.
For more information on the definition and history of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), go to: http://campus.houghton.edu/orgs/psychology/ptsd/history.htm
For more information on Representative Buerkle’s statement on the rate of veteran suicides, go to: http://buerkle.house.gov/press-release/veteran-suicide-rate-remains-high-despite-increased-support
Peter S. Gaytan is the author of For Service To Your Country – Updated Edition: The Essential Guide to Getting the Veterans’ Benefits You’ve Earned (Citadel, 2011), available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers. He has served as an advocate in securing and protecting the earned benefits of America’s veterans for more than a decade. Gaytan is the Executive Director of the American Legion, the largest
veterans service organization in America.