Washington, April 18 : A new study has found that nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression.
The study, conducted by RAND Corporation, found about 19 percent of returning service members report that they experienced a possible traumatic brain injury while deployed, with 7 percent reporting both a probable brain injury and current PTSD or major depression. Since October 2001, about 1.6 million US troops have deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with many exposed to prolonged periods of combat-related stress or traumatic events.
Early evidence suggests that the psychological toll of the deployments may be disproportionately high compared with physical injuries.
Researchers surveyed 1,965 service members from 24 communities across the country to assess their exposure to traumatic events and possible brain injury while deployed, evaluate current symptoms of psychological illness, and gauge whether they have received care for combat-related problems.
Service members reported exposure to a wide range of traumatic events while deployed, with half saying they had a friend who was seriously wounded or killed, 45 percent reporting they saw dead or seriously injured non-combatants, and over 10 percent saying they were injured themselves and required hospitalization.
Rates of PTSD and major depression were highest among Army soldiers and Marines, and among service members who were no longer on active duty.
Women, Hispanics and enlisted personnel all were more likely to report symptoms of PTSD and major depressions, but the single best predictor of PTSD and depression was exposure to combat trauma while deployed.
"There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Terri Tanielian, the project's co-leader and a researcher at RAND.
"Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation," she added.
"Unfortunately, we found there are many barriers preventing them from getting the high-quality treatment they need," said Tanielian.
Researchers concluded that a major national effort is needed to expand and improve the capacity of the mental health system to provide effective care to service members and veterans.
According to the study, the effort must include the military, veteran and civilian health care systems, and should focus on training more providers to use high-quality, evidence-based treatment methods and encouraging service members and veterans to seek needed care.