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More US Troops Returning with Post Combat Stress

There are an estimated 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and approximately 25,000 in Afghanistan. Like soldiers in other wars before them, a significant number of those returning home are bringing back emotional scars from combat. VOA's Melinda Smith has more on what is being done to identify those who suffer from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

The welcome home for many U.S. troops could be any warmer. They are back in the arms of their loved ones, and the fear and anxiety experienced during combat seems distant -- at least temporarily.

But a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that problems are showing up three to six months after coming home. Dr. Charles Milliken and his colleagues at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C. conducted the study.

Dr. Milliken explains, "Things happen fast over in the combat theater. It's only after a soldier's been home for some time and has time to think about what he's been through, that some of those problems start to become something that weighs on his mind."

Tom Williams is retired from the U.S. military. He was in the medical corps in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says, "I spent the first six months I was back, looking at the ground to make sure I didn't get my legs blown off."

U.S. troops returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan routinely undergo a health checkup that includes a look at possible emotional and psychological issues.

Army researchers have studied the effectiveness of the initial assessment, as well as the additional screening and mental health training done a few months later. Dr. Milliken says this study helps identify a larger population of soldiers. "For the next 30 days following the screen a number of soldiers enter the mental health system. So something about the screening and training is actually encouraging soldiers to go get care."

The screening involves answering a series of standard questions relating to mental health stress and meeting with medical personnel. Then, soldiers participate in something called Battlemind training.

"Battlemind training helps soldiers understand what are some common problems that lots of folks experience after being in combat for a year. It helps give them ideas about what they can do about these problems," Dr. Milliken said.

Dr. Milliken and veteran Tom Williams both say the second screening is a valuable incentive for soldiers to seek help. "We know soldiers tend to have stigma about going in to get mental health care, so something about the screening-training process is countering that stigma and making it more okay for them to get care," Dr. Milliken said.

Williams adds, "It takes time for reactions to start and it takes time for you to recognize that there's something wrong -- that your behaviors are not just affecting you, they're affecting someone you probably love or care for."

When Army researchers looked at results of the second screening, they decided to focus only on soldiers returning from Iraq because they had had consistently higher rates of combat exposure. At least 88,000 soldiers from that group had completed both screenings.

Video courtesy of the Journal of the American Medical Association