A new report in this month's issue of the American
Journal of Psychiatry finds that while a high percentage of soldiers returning
from Iraq suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many do not show
symptoms right away.
"We can only speculate about why the rates rise with time," said
lead researcher Sgt. Thomas A. Grieger, a professor of psychiatry who works
at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center outside Washington.
Grieger's team followed more than 600 injured soldiers after they returned
from Iraq. They found that after one month, 4.2 percent had probable PTSD and
4.4 percent had depression; at four months, 12.2 percent had PTSD and 8.9 percent
suffered from depression; at seven months, 12 percent had PTSD and 9.3 percent
"It could be the severity of the injury. It could be that the severity
of the physical problems they face hurt them when they're returned to an environment
where they're supposed to perform either in their profession or to be an active
and loving father or spouse," Grieger added. "The trauma of that could
contribute to the development of PTSD."
Regardless, the finding that PTSD can develop over time means families and
friends of returning soldiers must be on the lookout to make sure no psychiatric
"I'd be concerned if they weren't sleeping well," Grieger told IPS.
"I'd be concerned if they'd given up activities that they previously enjoyed.
Sometimes they call out in their sleep. Often they have difficult driving or
flying or being in other kinds of confined spaces."
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying
event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened, according
to the National Institute of Mental Health. A person having a flashback may
lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening
all over again.
Also of concern, Grieger said, would be if soldiers are unwilling to talk about
their war experiences or show discomfort at reminders of war like civilian aircraft
Researchers found that severely injured soldiers suffered from post-traumatic
stress disorder at about the same rate as those returning troops who were not
injured in battle.
"The increase from 4 to 12 percent from one to four months is exactly
what we've been seeing among non-wounded soldiers," Dr. Charles Hoge of
the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Walter Reed Army Institute
of Research told Forbes magazine.
That's hardly news to John Oliviera, a former Navy lieutenant who served tours
in both Iraq and Afghanistan before leaving the military in 2004. Since returning
to his native Massachusetts, he has been in and out of the Veterans Administration's
"I think they finally figured out the right cocktail of meds to give me,"
he told IPS. "It's been really rough. I've been good lately, but a few
months ago I had to be hospitalized after bashing my head over and over again
Oliviera, who worked as a U.S. Navy spokesman in addition to participating
in bombing runs, is now employed at the airport commission and as a fill-in
talk show host on an AM radio station in New Bedford.
He's also started a veterans' assistance organization designed to help those
returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as raising awareness about PTSD.
"There's a lot of shame in saying you need help," he said. "You
know in the soldier's mind you're supposed to be tough and self-sufficient.
Also, a lot of people don't know that the VA [Veterans Administration] will
cover all your health expenses after you come back from the war."
Oliviera told IPS that Vietnam veterans have been especially helpful assisting
him and other younger vets suffering from PTSD.
According to an analysis published by the journal Science in August,
18.7 percent of Vietnam veterans had experienced PTSD and nearly one out of
every 10 veterans of the war in Southeast Asia still suffered from chronic and
disabling symptoms more than a decade after the war had ended. In 2004, the
government continued to compensate 217,893 vets for PTSD, more than the total
number of U.S. troops stationed in Iraq.
John Rowan, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), issued a statement
when the article was published in Science earlier this year.
"Given the nature of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, VVA has no reason
to believe that the rate of PTSD for veterans of [Iraq and Afghanistan] will
be any less than that of Vietnam veterans," he said.
"The bottom line must be to make sure that the new generation of returning
veterans gets the assistance and clinical interventions they need, so that they
don't develop chronic PTSD," Rowan concluded.
(Inter Press Service)