As we hopefully wind down our wars in Afganistan and Iraq, a serious problem will have to be addressed for those soldiers coming home with mental illness. I’ve been reading several articles where people in the mental health field have been worried about the mental health issues of soldiers who have been through multiple deployments in Iraq and Afganistan. In a July 25, 2010 article for the USA Today, Gregg Zoroya wrote:
The number of soldiers forced to leave the Army solely because of a mental disorder has increased by 64% from 2005 to 2009 and accounts for one in nine medical discharges, according to Army statistics.
Last year, 1,224 soldiers with a mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, received a medical discharge. That was an increase from 745 soldiers in 2005 or about 7% of medical discharges that year, according to personnel statistics provided to USA TODAY.
The trend matches other recent indicators that show a growing emotional toll on a military that has been fighting for seven years in Iraq and nine years in Afghanistan, the Army and veterans advocates say.
“These numbers really just validate the mental health communities’ concern about multiple deployments,” says Adrian Atizado, who specializes in health issues as assistant national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans. “Mind and body are both taking a beating.”
Soldiers discharged for having both a mental and a physical disability increased 174% during the past five years from 1,397 in 2005 to 3,831 in 2009, according to the statistics.
Army Lt. Col. Rebecca Porter, an Army behavioral health official, says research shows “a clear relationship between multiple deployments and increased symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.”
In an August 14, 2008 article for USA Today, Marilyn Elias wrote:
Multiple combat deployments to Iraq are increasing serious mental health problems among soldiers, triggering drug and alcohol abuse and contributing to record suicide levels, suggest reports out Thursday at the American Psychological Association meeting in Boston.
In a typical unit headed to Iraq, 60% are on their second, third or fourth deployment, lasting about a year each, says U.S. Army Col. Carl Castro, who directs a medical research program at Fort Detrick, Md.
More time in Iraq means heavier exposure to violence, which leads more soldiers to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, Castro told the psychology meeting. By their third tour to Iraq, more than a quarter of soldiers show signs of mental problems, such as PTSD, and it’s about 1 out of 3 for those exposed to heavy combat, according to a U.S. Army Surgeon General report in March on more than 2,000 soldiers.
In another report at the meeting, deployment correlated with more heavy drinking and illegal drug use, according to anonymous questionnaires given to about 34,000 active duty troops, Reservists and National Guard members. Deployed Reserve troops had the highest traumatic stress symptoms and rates of “seriously considering suicide,” according to the Defense Department-funded study by RTI International, Research Triangle Park, N.C.
One of the major problems that are faced by veterans returning with mental illnesses is the increased likelihood of being homeless. According to figures from the National Coalition of the Homeless website, between 130,000 and 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night—representing between one fourth and one-fifth of all homeless people. Women veterans and those with disabilities including post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are more likely to become homeless. A high percentage of veterans returning from the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have the characteristics of post traumatic stress disorder or some other psychological illness. Many also suffer from substance abuse problems. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) here are the demographics of homeless veterans:
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says the nation’s homeless veterans are mostly males (four percent are females). The vast majority is single, most come from poor, disadvantaged communities, 45 percent suffer from mental illness, and half have substance abuse problems. America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom, or the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. 47 per cent of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam Era. More than 67 per cent served our country for at least three years and 33 per cent were stationed in a war zone.
Here are some statistics concerning the veterans homeless :
23% of homeless population are veterans
33% of male homeless population are veterans
47% Vietnam Era
67% served three or more years
33% stationed in war zone
25% have used VA Homeless Services
85% completed high school/GED, compared to 56% of non-veterans
89% received Honorable Discharge
79% reside in central cities
16% reside in suburban areas
5% reside in rural areas
76% experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems
46% white males compared to 34% non-veterans
46% age 45 or older compared to 20% non-veterans
Female homeless veterans represent an estimated 3% of homeless veterans. They are more likely than male homeless veterans to be married and to suffer serious psychiatric illness, but less likely to be employed and to suffer from addiction disorders. Comparisons of homeless female veterans and other homeless women have found no differences in rates of mental illness or addictions.
Lisa Fletcher and Felicia Biberica wrote about the special problems of female veterans:
There are an estimated 6,500 homeless female veterans on America’s streets, double the number of a decade ago, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Women veterans are four times more likely than their male counterparts to wind up homeless.
…Women vets face all the same issues as their male counterparts: post traumatic stress, sleeplessness and battle injuries. But they face additional challenges unique to them.
Many, like Montoya, are single mothers.
Montoya said she had to leave the army because she had no one to take care of her 2-year-old daughter.
“I went to the VA to ask if they had any type of daycare help or resources and they said no, she’s not a veteran, we have help for veterans,” Montoya said.
Finding a good paying job with money for child care has been tough, she said.
“My friends went to college and now they have careers,” she said. “I dedicated seven years of my life to the military and it’s as if it were for nothing.”
The Department of Veteran Affairs has a webpage dedicated to help homeless veterans find shelter.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development and VA Supported Housing (HUD-VASH) Program provides permanent housing and ongoing case management treatment services for homeless Veterans who require these supports to live independently. HUD has allocated over 20,000 “Housing Choice” Section 8 vouchers to Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) throughout the country for eligible homeless Veterans. This program allows Veterans and their families to live in Veteran-selected apartment units. The vouchers are portable, allowing Veterans to live in communities where VA case management services can be provided. This program provides for our most vulnerable Veterans, and is especially helpful to Veterans with families, women Veterans, recently returning Veterans and Veterans with disabilities.
The Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program is offered annually (as funding permits) by the VA to fund community-based agencies providing transitional housing or service centers for homeless Veterans. Under the Capital Grant Component VA may fund up to 65% of the project for the construction, acquisition, or renovation of facilities or to purchase van(s) to provide outreach and services to homeless Veterans. Per Diem is available to grantees to help off-set operational expenses. Non-Grant programs may apply for Per Diem under a separate announcement, when published in the Federal Register, announcing the funding for “Per Diem Only.”
VA’s Supported Housing Program provides ongoing case management services to homeless Veterans. Emphasis is placed on helping Veterans find permanent housing and providing clinical support needed to keep veterans in permanent housing. Staff in these programs operate without benefit of the specially dedicated Section 8 housing vouchers available in the HUD-VASH program but are often successful in locating transitional or permanent housing through local means, especially by collaborating with Veterans Service Organizations.
For information to help veterans find healthcare, employment and other services, they could go to this website.
If you enjoy this cartoon, take a look at these links for more of my political cartoons at Everyday Citizen:
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A Cartoon On Gay Marriage