- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

About 300,000 service members who returned home from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, according to an unprecedented national study released yesterday by the Rand Corp.

Another 320,000 service members reported suffering a traumatic brain injury during deployment. However, most of the service members who reported the injuries, of which many were mild concussions, have not sought treatment or are not aware of the severity of their injuries.

Terri Tanielian, the project’s co-leader and a researcher at Rand told reporters that this is “a major health crisis” for service members, both men and women.

Miss Tanielian said the study reveals the need for more service providers who know how to deliver appropriate care, including long-term future medical needs, for service members returning from war. Service members should not be limited to seeking care at Defense Department or Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities, she said. They should be able to get care within the private sector as well because some don’t live close enough to veterans’ hospitals.

Lisa Jaycox, Rand senior behavioral scientist and co-leader of the study, said it is difficult to estimate how many mental health care service providers will be needed to fulfill the demand because “we already have a shortage of mental health professionals in the U.S. health care system.”

“This is not a problem unique to the DoD or VA, but many individuals who are seeking mental health care in the U.S. have difficulty finding a provider,” she said.

The Defense Department covers the medical needs of active duty and reservists. Veterans Affairs is responsible for the care of veterans who are no longer active.

The research included a survey of 1,965 current and former service members from all military branches across the country. It is the first to comprehensively assess the current needs of returned service members from all branches of the military.

According to Pentagon, more than 1.6 million military personnel have been deployed to the conflicts since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001.

Miss Tanielian added that roughly 7 percent of service members surveyed reported having both brain trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Rand study also found that only 43 percent of service members reported seeking an evaluation from a physician for their head injuries and roughly 53 percent of service members sought help for depressions or PTSD.

The reasons for not seeking treatment varied, but many of the service members said they “are reluctant to seek services for fear of negative career repercussions.”

The study, “Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery,” focused on three major conditions: PTSD, major depression and traumatic brain injury.

Researchers found that “roughly half of those who need treatment for these conditions seek it, but only slightly more than half who receive treatment get minimally adequate care.”

The 500-page study sought to measure the total costs to society by factoring in treatment costs, losses or gains in productivity, and the costs associated with suicide, Miss Tanielian said.

The study was funded by a grant from the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund, administered by the California Community Foundation.

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