Demand for Mental Health Services Rises for Veterans

Article excerpt

Byline: Janice Youngwith

From post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to traumatic brain injury (TBI), military veterans returning from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are on the front lines at home when it comes to critical need for specialized psychological services.

With numbers staggering, experts say there is growing need for military-focused clinical psychology services, a recognized specialty in high demand. Local mental health providers concur with the national trend and report increased medical and behavioral health needs of military personnel returning from both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"The occurrence rates for PTSD are double and possibly triple the rates of prior conflicts including Korea, Vietnam and the first Gulf War," says Joseph E. Troiani, Ph.D., who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a retired United States Navy commander. "There are no front lines in today's conflicts and exposure to danger is constant."

His observations are on target, according to research indicating both operations involve veterans who have experienced multiple stressors including multiple deployments, high intensity guerrilla warfare and the chronic daily threat of roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 11 to 20 percent of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan deployments suffer PTSD. Others speculate the numbers are much higher.

With civilian PTSD rates hovering at just three to four percent, the New England Journal of Medicine reports rates five times higher for veterans returning from military service. Modern warfare tactics including the use of IEDs have significantly increased the number of traumatic brain injuries. In addition, military sources report a 25 percent increase in alcohol abuse by veterans.

"Today's conflicts mean a high-stress environment," Dr. Troiani says. Being involved in active combat can put anyone over the edge. "Today's arenas of conflict mean the largest deployment since World War II. It's a much different combat environment with no clear cut front lines. Women, while not officially classified as being in combat roles, also face combat exposure and only slightly lower PTSD and TBI rates in their roles as military police, transport specialists, support services and medical team members."

Dr. Troiani, who also is an associate professor of clinical psychology and founding coordinator of the Adler School of Professional Psychology specialized doctoral track in military psychology, says the need for such specialized mental health services is only going to increase. …