Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Iraqi War
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is increasingly common among members of the military services, especially those who have served in theaters of operation or war such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Ira Katz (2007), Deputy Chief of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, stated that at the end of the first half of fiscal year 2007, almost 720,000 military men and women separated from the armed forces after service in Iraq and Afghanistan and over 250,000 sought health care in Veterans Administration facilities, with approximately 45,000 individuals receiving care for post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is perhaps the most common mental disorder exhibited by returning American military personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan (Katz, 2007; Greiger, 2007). Greiger (2007) states that about 12-20 percent of all combat soldiers returning from Iraq have probable PTSD while 7-15 percent have probable depression. These data suggest that PTSD is a major post-military service health problem which requires greater attention than it is currently receiving.
A report on MSNBC.com (1 in 8 returning soldiers…, 2004) stated that PTSD tends to develop among military personnel after they have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, feelings of detachment, irritability, trouble concentrating, and sleeplessness. This report indicated that PTSD has been a problem among military personnel since Vietnam and throughout the Persian Gulf War. It appears to be increasing in direct relationship to the amount of time that military personnel spend deployed in a theater of war.
According to Prins, Kimerling, and Leskin (2008), a substantial number of Iraqi War veterans are presenting in primary care health settings upon return from the front with varied symptoms indicative of PTSD; as these researchers stated, PTSD has many ill effects: • PTSD appears to be a key mechanism that accounts for the association between trauma and poor health • PTSD and exposure to traumatic experiences are associated with a variety of health-threatening behaviors, such as alcohol and drug use, risky sexual practices, and suicidal ideation and gestures • PTSD is associated with an increased number of both lifetime and current physical symptoms, and PTSD severity is positively related to self-reports of physical conditions (Prins et al., 2008, p. 1).
There are any number of reasons why soldiers returning from Iraq are vulnerable to PTSD. Zoroya (2008), for example, indicated that soldiers in combat who have seen peers killed were twice as likely to experience PTSD as were individuals who did not witness the death of friends. Additionally, as the number of tours of duty increase, so do the number and severity of emotional illnesses experienced by soldiers. Zoroya (2008) stated that soldiers who receive successive 12-15 month combat deployments separated by a year-long break are much more likely to be at-risk for developing PTSD than solders who have longer breaks between tours of duty. People are not designed to be repeatedly exposed to the horrors or combat or to the physiological as well as psychological demands that combat places on soldiers (Zoroya, 2008). For example, most soldiers receive less than six hours of sleep per night, adding to their stress. Additionally, soldiers on prolonged tours of duty experience stress due to separation from their families, their homes, and communities (Zoroya, 2007). Limited health care in the field coupled with a reluctance on the part of many soldiers to acknowledge psychological problems tends to exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD (Zoroya, 2007).
Forbes, Haslam, Williams, and Creamer (2005) conducted a study of PTSD among combat veterans and found that it may best be conceptualized as one end of a continuum of human response to traumatic exposure. For many soldiers, PTSD is directly associated with living in a state...
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