Thursday, March 06, 2008

On The Mental Consequences of Multiple Deployments

Soldiers on their fourth or fifth tour in Iraq report more mental health problems than those on their first tour, say:

More than a quarter of U.S. soldiers on their third or fourth tours in Iraq suffer mental health problems partly because troops are not getting enough time at home between deployments, the Army said on Thursday.

Overall, about 17.9 percent of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan had mental health problems in 2007, according to an annual Army survey. That is slightly below the 2006 figure of 19.1 percent but relatively consistent with previous years.

But the incidence of mental health problems for soldiers in war zones climbs significantly among troops returning for a third and fourth combat tour, the survey showed.

Among noncommissioned officers, for example, 27.2 percent on their third and fourth tours suffered mental health problems in 2007. That compares with 18.5 percent for those low-ranking officers on their second tours and 11.9 percent of those on their first tours, the Army said.

"Soldiers are not resetting entirely before they get back into theater," said Lt. Col. Paul Bliese, who led the Army's Mental Health Advisory Team survey for 2007.

By "resetting" Bliese meant soldiers are not getting enough time to recover from the trauma of duty in a war zone.

In other words, the military is overstretched.

I'm not sure how possible it is to "recover from the trauma of duty" in general, given the Vietnam veterans who still suffer from PTSD. Some probably recover, some don't, but in either case the circumstances in Iraq are such that we should expect greater rates of PTSD in the future. This means that more money is required for the mental health care of returning veterans.