Thursday, April 17, 2008

Human beings have limits

And those boundaries have been breached where about 20% of our defensive forces are concerned. A new study by the RAND Corporation, released just today, pegs the number of veterans suffering from PTSD and depression at about 300,000 and the number of veterans who sustained brain injuries at about 320,000. With only one direction for those numbers to go, we are facing an immediate future where we have somewhere in the neighborhood of a million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan needing care that the VA is ill-equipped to handle - they are overstretched now, and only half of the soldiers struggling with depression, PTSD and TBI have sought treatment.

The new study gives us a glimpse at a cringe-worthy future if we don't get our collective act together and deal with the issues facing these good men and women who stepped up and served. It also compliments and confirms an Army study on mental health that was released by the Joint Chiefs earlier this month that pegged the number of soldiers suffering from PTSD after one deployment at 12%, after two deployments at 18.5% and after three deployments at 28%.

Here is the cold hard truth that these studies tell - if the US Army was a distance runner, it would be hitting the wall about now, unable to go on one more step.
The Rand study, completed in January, put the percentage of PTSD and depression at 18.5 percent, calculating that approximately 300,000 current and former service members were suffering from those problems at the time of its survey, which was completed in January.

The figure is based on Pentagon data showing over 1.6 million military personnel have deployed to the conflicts since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001.

RAND researchers also found:

_About 19 percent — or some 320,000 services members — reported that they experienced a possible traumatic brain injury while deployed. In wars where blasts from roadside bombs are prevalent, the injuries can range from mild concussions to severe head wounds.

_About 7 percent reported both a probable brain injury and current PTSD or major depression.

_Only 43 percent reported ever being evaluated by a physician for their head injuries.

_Only 53 percent of service members with PTSD or depression sought help over the past year.

_They gave various reasons for not getting help, including that they worried about the side effects of medication; believe family and friends could help them with the problem, or that they feared seeking care might damage their careers.

_Rates of PTSD and major depression were highest among women and reservists.

The report is titled "Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery." It was sponsored by a grant from the California Community Foundation and done by 25 researchers from RAND Health and the RAND National Security Research Division, which also has done does work under contracts with the Pentagon and other defense agencies as well as allied foreign governments and foundations.

This war is going to end. It has to. We can't keep fighting it, no matter what the keyboard kommandos fighting the War of the Words™ in their jammies think (I'm using 'think' loosely here).

They aren't doing the hard work of service, and have no idea what it entails. But those soldiers they simultaneously lionize and abuse are human beings. They are sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors...human beings.

And they deserve to be treated as such. And that is going to require that society start stepping up now - because 'late' is at least a little bit better than 'never.'

From the L.A. Times:
Thousands more mental health professionals -- both in government hospitals and the civilian healthcare systems -- are needed to meet the need of troops and veterans, and new training is needed for current medical professionals, according to the report.

"Since the dramatic increase in the need for services exists now, the required expansion in trained providers is already several years overdue," the report said.

The study recommends finding ways to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans get access to the civilian mental health providers.

Mental healthcare also needs to be standardized and improved, and only a little more than half of the service members being treated for stress disorders and depressions received adequate care, according to the survey.

"The prevalence of PTSD and major depression will likely remain high unless greater efforts are made to enhance systems of care for these individuals," the report said.

Stress disorders and other combat-related mental ailments can lead to suicide, homelessness and physical health problems. But more mundane problems caused by stress disorders and depression can have long-term social consequences.

"These conditions can impair relationships, disrupt marriages, aggravate the difficulties of parenting, and cause problems in children that may extend the consequences of combat trauma across generations," the study says.

The failure to adequately treat depression and stress disorders can cost the United States up to $6.2 billion, said Lisa H. Jaycox, another of the study's authors.

"While the existing therapies do not guarantee recovery in 100% of people," Jaycox said, "we make the case that investing in treatment early would prevent some of the negative consequences from unfolding and save money."
We are blessed as a nation to have a core of good, decent men and women who are willing to serve and sacrifice for this country. When we abuse them and violate the pact that America makes with her Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines we abdicate our honor as a nation. And I, for one, refuse to be a party to treason - which, as far as I am concerned, is what it boils down to when we shit on those who serve.

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