Stressed vets not getting help


Stressed vets not getting help

Less than one quarter of the U.S. military’s Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who show signs of post-traumatic stress are referred for additional mental health treatment or evaluation, according to a government study.

The report, released by the Government Accountability Office on Thursday, said about 5 percent of the veterans interviewed after they returned from combat tours appeared at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder. Of those, about 22 percent are referred for more health care.

GAO said the Defense Department can’t guarantee that those who need referrals get them, and there appear to be inconsistencies in how health care workers from the different military services determine who needs a referral.

The GAO found that 9,145 of the 178,664 service members reviewed may have been at risk of combat stress, and 2,029 were referred for additional help…


Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, disagreed with suggestions that not all veterans who need referrals get them. In a response included with the GAO report, the Pentagon said the clinicians are familiar with combat demands, and that in some cases, a medical referral or treatment may prolong symptoms that could disappear naturally.

Combat stress symptoms may be relieved by rest and a return to normal daily life, the Defense Department said.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the military is making more services available than before for troops returning from war. He said there is less of a stigma for those who decide to seek help and more understanding about the stresses of combat.

The GAO report recommended that the Pentagon determine exactly how health care providers are deciding who needs a referral, to explain why some military services are more likely than others to refer veterans who show signs of post-traumatic stress.

According to the report, the Army and Air Force referred 23 percent, the Navy referred 18 percent, and the Marines referred 15 percent.

During the screening process, service members are asked four questions. If they answer yes to three or four of them, they may be referred for additional mental health evaluation, although most are not.

Health care screeners ask troops returning home whether they had a horrible experience that triggers nightmares; whether they had an experience that they try hard not to think about; whether they are easily startled or constantly on guard; and whether they feel numb or detached from others or their activities or surroundings.


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