The L.A. Times reported on a RAND study released this month discussing the psychological impact of guerrilla warfare on soldiers and the failure of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to keep pace in the wake of the wars on terror. The study shows one in five veterans suffer from psychological problems and that many are not getting adequate care.
An estimated 300,000 veterans among the nearly 1.7 million who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are battling depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. More than half of these people, according to the study conducted by the Rand Corp., are slipping through the cracks in the bureaucratic system, going without necessary treatment.
The Rand study underscores one of the lessons of modern counterinsurgency conflicts: Such wars may kill fewer troops than traditional fighting but can leave deeper psychological scars.
Besides the personal and often devastating social repercussions to soldiers and their families dealing with combat related mental health issues, (See City Pages' piece on soldier suicides last month and its online post about Minnesota veteran Noah Pierce.) the Rand report also delves into the economic costs associated with not providing adequate health care for veterans with PTSD who, without treatment, are likely to turn to drugs and alcohol, and fall into homelessness or legal trouble. (See our story on local vet Tony Klecker who killed a 16-year-old girl while drunk driving.)
Failure to adequately treat disorders can cost the government billions of dollars, said Lisa H. Jaycox, one of the study's authors. "We make the case that investing in treatment early would prevent some of the negative consequences from unfolding and save money," Jaycox said.
Unfortunately, despite the lessons learned in Vietnam, the VA has entered into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan unprepared, a complaint many associate with a lack of funds and trained expertise.
The VA maintains that it is doing everything possible to increase quality of care, especially after a Washington Post investigation last year found wounded Iraq war veterans living in ramshackle housing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Nonetheless, according to the Dallas News, portions of a Texas VA had to close this week, after 4 mentally ill patients were able to commit suicide while on the hospital’s grounds.
Bryan Catherman, a former staff sergeant in the Army Reserve, quoted in the La Times' story says he sank into a depression and abused alcohol after returning from overseas.
At first resisting his family's pleas to get help, he later encountered frustration in dealing with Veterans Affairs. Today, he credits the VA for the help he needed, but thinks the government misread the problem.
"The system is overburdened," Catherman said. "We should have learned from Vietnam. I feel, as a veteran, that once I got home from Iraq, I wasn't much of a concern anymore."