« Navy, Marines block commercial e-mail sites | Main | Area Marine dies in Iraq »

Troops' mental stress is revealed in survey

More than one in four U.S. soldiers have come home from Iraq with health problems that require medical or mental-health treatment, according to the Pentagon's first detailed screening of service members leaving a war zone.

http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/1019IRAQ-STRESS.htmlGregg Zoroya


USA Today
Oct. 19, 2005 12:00 AM

More than one in four U.S. soldiers have come home from Iraq with health problems that require medical or mental-health treatment, according to the Pentagon's first detailed screening of service members leaving a war zone.

Almost 1,700 service members returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom this year said they harbored thoughts of hurting themselves or might be better off dead. More than 250 said they had such thoughts "a lot." Nearly 20,000 reported nightmares or unwanted war recollections; more than 3,700 admitted having concerns that they might "hurt or lose control" with someone else.

Overall, since the war began, about 28 percent of Iraq veterans, roughly 50,000 troops this year alone, returned with ailments ranging from lingering battle wounds to toothaches, from suicidal thoughts to strained marriages. The figure dwarfs the often-quoted Iraq casualty count: 1,980 American troops dead and 15,220 wounded through Tuesday.

The survey was based on 538,232 assessments of returning personnel from April 2003 to August 2005.

Some survey results, which have not been publicly released, were provided to USA Today by the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine. They offer a window into the war and how the ongoing insurgency has added to the strain on troops.

After a more conventional phase of fighting in 2003, more soldiers and Marines said they felt in "great danger" of being killed. Twice as many said they fired a weapon in combat.

"The (wartime) deployments do take a toll," says Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman. "We send them to austere locations, places that are extremely hot, extremely cold, very wet, very dry where they may also encounter an armed enemy."

The Pentagon tries to identify all the troops in need of care in part by aggressively screening every service member before and after overseas duty. All are queried about everything from runny noses to nightmares.

Begun in 1997 and expanded in 2003, it is the most detailed health assessment of deployed troops. It came in response to undocumented ailments that surfaced after the 1991 Gulf War.

Jim Benson, a spokesman at the Department of Veterans Affairs, says it may be hard to compare these figures with those of previous wars because previous data have not been so comprehensive.

A year ago, a federal panel of medical experts that studied illnesses among Gulf War veterans estimated that one in seven suffers war-related health problems.

Benson said the percentage of troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan with health issues approximates the number of former service members coming to the VA for mental or medical help. He says 101,000 of the 431,000 veterans who have separated from the military, or about 23 percent, have sought help.