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More Than a Third of U.S. Soldiers Returning from Iraq Seek Mental Services

A new U.S. military study finds that more than a third of U.S. veterans of the war in Iraq access mental health services in the year after returning from war.

Studies show that, for many soldiers, fighting a war results in increased risk of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and of post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder that is triggered by enduring a life-threatening event.

When he was in Iraq helping U.S. troops cope with the stress of combat, U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Geoffrey Grammer was a target of mortar fire. "It was one of those times where you sit there and you say, 'I can't believe this is happening to me. I don't have any other choice, but sort of wall this off and move on and tend to the mission at hand.'"

But the trauma, physical and emotional, is something soldiers eventually have to face.

The U.S. Army conducted a study of American military personnel who returned home from Iraq, Afghanistan and other deployment locations between 2003 and 2004.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Charles Hoge, at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, comments on the study. "The study shows that soldiers who are returning from Iraq, that a higher percentage of those soldiers report mental health concerns and use mental health services when they get home from Iraq compared to soldiers who are returning from deployment to Afghanistan or other locations."

Dr. Hoge says that is because American troops in Iraq see frequent and intense combat and witness people being wounded or killed. "The most important finding of the study, though, is that most of the services that soldiers are receiving, mental health services, (is that) they are coming in to get care early, within the first two months, particularly, of returning home. And this is very encouraging."

Dr. Hoge says early treatment of mental health problems is the best way to prevent the long-term consequences that have been seen in past wars.