Military suicides: Cases of post-traumatic stress mount at alarming rate | New Jersey Real-Time News - - NJ.com
Posted Nov 24 2009 8:09am
More than 1.7 million Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan over the past eight years. No one can say with precision how many of those service members came home with debilitating mental trauma, but studies suggest the figure is, at the least, many hundreds of thousands. A report released last year by the RAND Corp., a nonpartisan research group, said at least one in five returning soldiers suffers from depression or PTSD, an anxiety disorder mental health experts and military officials alike say is a contributing factor in the rising suicide rate. More recently, researchers at Stanford University estimated up to 35 percent of all veterans from those two wars either have PTSD or will develop it.
Reported by Tomas Dinges & Mark Mueller Written by Mark Mueller
By contrast, about 19 percent of those who served in the Vietnam War experienced PTSD, according to a 2006 study published in the journal Science. John A. Renner Jr., a military psychiatrist during Vietnam and now associate chief of psychiatry at the VA’s Boston Healthcare System, contends repeated tours are a major factor in the higher rate of mental trauma. "The length of time in combat is directly related to incidents of PTSD. We’ve known that since World War II," Renner said.
The typical GI in Vietnam served one 12-month tour of duty. Many service members now serve two to three tours, with little time between deployments to decompress or reconnect with families. Two soldiers who committed suicide this year had served four tours of duty, Army records show. Even those serving a single tour have come back with PTSD symptoms, including flashbacks, anxiety attacks, explosive anger and a lack of concentration, said Judith Broder, the founder and director of the Soldiers Project, a nonprofit group that provides free counseling to service members and veterans. Some harbor feelings of intense guilt for surviving while buddies died, or for the things they did while deployed. Some withdraw from friends and family. A few engage in uncharacteristic and dangerous behaviors: driving recklessly, gambling huge sums of money, drinking until they pass out, acting out violently. "They’re courting disaster because they’re used to courting disaster in combat," Broder said. "They come home in a hyperactive state." In the most extreme cases, they take their own lives.