February 28, 2006
For U.S. troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the war may be over, but many times the mental effects of combat don't go away. Now a new study is trying to find out if these service members are getting the help they need.
The co-author of this study says that by studying the effects of the current war, the military is hoping to prevent mental health problems in troops, or spot them faster.
U.S. troops in the Middle East are often surrounded by violence. Unfortunately, these images can stay with soldiers even after they leave the war zone, along with symptoms of post traumatic stress. Army psychiatrist Dr. Charles Hoge says the military is trying to make sure these service members get the help they need.
"One of the hallmarks of the program now is really to help service members understand that a lot of what they're experiencing is in fact normal," said Hoge.
As part of a new study, Dr. Hoge followed 300,000 troops who returned home from Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations.
"The folks who serve in Iraq have a higher need for mental health services when they come home because the nature of warfare in Iraq is quite different than in Afghanistan," said Dr. Hoge.
About one third of troops returning from Iraq received a mental health evaluation or counseling. Around 12 percent were diagnosed with an actual mental health problem.
However, the study also shows that soldiers are seeking and getting the help they need. Experts say getting that help early is a major key to success.
"If we do something about those concerns early, [issues are] less likely to become more serious problems later on," said Dr. Hoge.
Military doctors are closely analyzing the findings of this study, trying to make sure the service they're providing our troops is the best it can be.
Dr. Hoge says the findings can not be compared to previous wartime studies because the new program encourages returning soldiers to seek help for psychological issues early.
Experts also hope that service personnel won't experience as many mental health problems as in past wars.