GIs Sick of War
U.S. Forces Debilitated by Combat Stress
By Fred Lingel
Some 20 percent
of U.S. soldiers returning from combat in the ongoing guerrilla war in Iraq
have shown signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and have received
treatment for it, according to a new study in a leading medical journal.
Nearly 7,000 returning GIs took an anonymous
survey distributed by the U.S. military, reports the July issue of New
England Journal of Medicine. Nearly one-fifth responded that they were
feeling the effects mentally of serving in combat and sought treatment for it.
Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, depression,
loss of interest in activities, suppressed emotions, anxiety, trouble
concentrating, anger and violent outbursts. These can be triggered by sights,
smells or general stress of life.
The military is trying to do a better job at
identifying the signs of trouble after criticism following previous wars such
as Vietnam. As many as 15 percent of Vietnam veterans, who were examined years
after the war ended, admitted they still suffered from the ailment.
Doctors have acknowledged that the number of
soldiers affected by the mental condition may rise because the survey was
conducted shortly after the U.S. troops left the battlefield. Symptoms of PTSD
can often develop months or years later, said an official from the Department
of Veterans Affairs’ National Center in an editorial accompanying the study.
Today, there is concern among the military that
PTSD may be a problem, which, if left untreated, can surface years from now and
affect how soldiers deal with life in the civilian world.
“We’re saying to the world we have nothing to
hide,’’ said William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health
affairs. “This is about getting better at something that is important and that
our leadership considers important.”