Monday, March 20, 2006

Mentally Ill Troops Headed Back To Iraq

Military personnel nationwide are heading back to Iraq, and many will be bringing with them a cache of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications.
Mentally ill service men and women are being returned to combat, and the redeployments are legal. But veteran groups, lawmakers, and mental health professionals fear that the practice lacks adequate civilian oversight. They also fear that these redeployments are becoming more frequent as soldiers are being recycled and multiple combat tours become the norm. Traumatized service members are retained out of loyalty or wartime pressures to maintain troop numbers.
Senator Barbara Boxer hopes to address the controversy through the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health, which is expected to start next month.
Boxer said, " We've also heard reports that doctors are being encouraged not to identify mental health illness in our troops. If people are suffering from mental health problems, they should not be sent on the battlefield."
" Stress reduces a person's chances of functioning well in combat", says Frank M. Ochberg, a psychiatrist for 40 years.
Officials from the Defense Department and Camp Pendleton here in California, where some units have been to Iraq 3 times, said they dont track personnel deployed while taking mental health medications or the number diagnosed with mental illness.
But medical officers for the Army and Marine Corps acknowledge that medicated service members-and those suffering combat- induced psychological problems- are returning to war. And anecdotal evidence, bolstered by the goverment's own studies, suggest that the number could be significant.
A 2004 Army report found that up to 17% of combat-seasoned infantrymen experienced major depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder after one combat tour in Iraq. Less than 40% of them had sought mental-health care.
A Penagon survey released last month found that 35% of the troops returing home from Iraq had received psychological counceling during their first year home.
33% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from schizophrenia, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
More than 200,000 prescriptions for the most common types of antidepressants were written in the past 14 months for service members and their families.
Army doctors are being told to diagnose combat-stress reaction instead of post-traumatic stress disorder. This does 2 things: it keeps the troops deployable and it makes it hard for them to collect disability claims once they get out of the military.
This is truly scary. It is obvious to me, and I'm sure to you, that mentally ill military men and women should NOT be allowed back into combat. They are a risk and liability, not too mention the increasing trauma and mental strain these soldiers will recieve while in combat. When these poor servicemen and women come back home, they will truly be damaged goods. And that trickles back down into society as a whole.