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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

It's time to tackle PTSD in the U.S. Military

By: Ryan Jaroncyk
, THL Contributor

There's an epidemic in the U.S. military. Repeated deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq are leading to record suicide rates and an explosive rise in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Here are some sobering facts and figures:

  • CNN reported that the military suicide rate for 2008 was the highest level among soldiers since the Pentagon began tracking it twenty eight years ago.
  • A Pentagon study revealed that 10% of the returning soldiers met the military's criteria for PTSD.
  • The New England Journal of Medicine studied four combat units and found that 17% of Iraq war veterans and 11% of Afghanistan war veterans suffered from PTSD. In addition, 25% of returning soldiers were drinking excessively.
  • A study by the RAND Corporation revealed that 20% of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer from PTSD or severe depression; sadly, only about 50% of these veterans will get the treatment they need.
  • An older study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) discovered that only 20% of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans who test positive for combat related stress disorders are actually referred by the Pentagon for mental health treatment.

One of the RAND project leaders, Lisa Jaycox, stated, "If PTSD and depression go untreated... there is a cascading set of consequences... drug abuse, suicide, marital problems and unemployment are some of the consequences..."

The evidence is pretty clear. Repeated deployments to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are resulting in crippling psychological and emotional effects for our men and women in uniform. These numbers are likely to rise, especially in Afghanistan, where the first "surge" is underway, and a second "surge" is already being discussed.

Such are the consequences of protracted wars. So, how can we resolve this urgent dilemma? Here are some potential solutions. These solutions can be divided into two categories: near-term and long-term.

Near-term solutions to PTSD:

1. Make PTSD a top priority in the Defense Department. It's pretty simple. You send our men and women to war zones, 2, 3, or 4 times, you better start providing them and their families with the best medical and psychiatric care.

2. Hold the VA accountable. Despite a 16% to 17% increase in funding for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the VA failed to address treatment of PTSD, record suicide rates, or severe depression. Simply stated, if they won't allocate funds to this growing epidemic, the increase in funding should be revoked.

3. Get the 2010 liberty candidates to make PTSD a top priority in their foreign policy discussions. Dr. Rand Paul, Peter Schiff, Adam Kokesh, RJ Harris, Dr. Vasovski, and other like-minded candidates need to step up to the plate on this vital, national security issue. Kokesh, Harris, and Vasovski can especially speak to this issue with a high degree of credibility based on their extensive military records. If our liberty candidates want to make a real impact in the foreign policy arena, then providing solutions to the PTSD epidemic should be a critical objective.

Long-term solutions to PTSD:

1. Revisit our foreign policy. If the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are so vital to the War on Terror, as many claim, then why are we stationing troops and personnel in nearly 130 other nations? By reducing our overseas presence to only the most strategic locations, we could utilize a significant portion of the savings to care for our men and women suffering from PTSD, not to mention pay down trillions of dollars of national debt.

2. Improve our intelligence. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq weren't supposed to last so long. The wars weren't supposed to be this costly. The casualty counts weren't supposed to be this high. And the psychological epidemic wasn't supposed to be this severe. Our nation's budget, and more importantly, our nation's families, can't afford repeated mistakes in pre-war estimates and predictions. The cost in blood and treasure is too high.

3. Redefine our war policy. If victory can't be precisely defined, then victory can never be achieved. We need to start defining what victory actually means in these war theaters. Vague rhetoric is meaningless. We need to establish specific benchmarks, from the start, so that specific objectives are achieved in a timely manner. We need to start establishing precise budgetary limits so that national debt doesn't keep growing. We need to adopt specific timelines to achieve swift and decisive victory. Timelines don't encourage enemies, they create focus and discipline. America possesses the most powerful military in the world. We shouldn't be bogged down in 6 and 8 years wars. Finally, we need to start officially declaring war, as the Constitution demands, before we go to war. We haven't declared war since World War II. U.N. resolutions or loose, congressional "authorizations" haven't been getting the job done.

These are some of my ideas and solutions. Now, what are some of yours?


  1. All military personnel should be given extensive treatment for PTSD before being released back into the civilian population.

    PTSD can be considered a healthy response to what these people have been trained to do and what they have been doing while on active duty.

    The ones not showing symptoms are most in need of treatment.

  2. Interesting thought. Makes a lot of sense. Do you know if the ones that "snap" and harm themselves or others have been statistically correlated with a lower incidence of PTSD than the entire population of troops returning from combat tours?

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with your two long-term solutions: revisit our foreign policy and improve our intelligence.

    For the first, we never had a pressing national security interest to invade Iraq. If that mission was critical to America's security there would be a valid argument made that PTSD cases, while tragic, are ultimately worth the sacrifice. Sadly, that's not the case. The link between Saddam and al Qaeda was manufactured from whole cloth.

    As for the second, intelligence-sharing with foreign governments is how we've captured a number of high-level al Qaeda militants, not blunt miltiary force.

  4. Ms. Innocent- I just looked over your comment and perused your page at Cato, where it appears you're doing great work! I'm flattered to get some of your analysis here on THL.