Military hitting the breaking point on mental health problems

Mental health problems among veterans will only grow, says former joint chiefs chairman

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Military officials have said there is no evidence that Lopez was wounded in battle while in Iraq or suffered any other traumatic event, but specialists say it’s not uncommon for civilians or military personnel who didn’t see combat to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Known as nondeployment PTSD, the illness is becoming much more common, said Royce Lee, a psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago.

Mr. Lee said nondeployment PTSD is common in first responders who have been exposed to victims repeatedly, like those who responded to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

As a truck driver in Iraq, Lopez could have been exposed over and over again to traumatic events of victims, Mr. Lee said.

“It is plausible if that were the kind of duties he had,” he said.

Military leaders say there simply aren’t enough mental health professionals in either the military or the nation as a whole to deal with the scope of the problem. As more veterans return from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental illness may become more common and more serious.

“I think our force, because it has been away so much, has not had to deal with those [mental health and other issues] as directly as they may have in the past, and now that we’re going to be home more, I think we’re going to actually see an increased number of challenges associated with that,” Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We all need to wrap our arms around the force to help us deal with those.”

Adm. Mullen said the availability and quality of services must be increased, along with the understanding of the human mind.

“This really is a national resources issue. … I think we need to do a lot more to understand the brain and how these [traumatic] injuries affect our young people who have done so much for our country,” he said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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