By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
The number of U.S. troops diagnosed by the military with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) jumped nearly 50 percent in 2007 over the previous year, as more of them served lengthy and repeated combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon data released yesterday show.
The increase brings the total number of U.S. troops diagnosed by the military with PTSD after serving in one of the two conflicts from 2003 to 2007 to nearly 40,000.
The vast majority of those diagnosed served in the Army, which had a total of 28,365 cases, including more than 10,000 last year alone. The Marine Corps had the second highest number, with 5,581 total and 2,114 last year. The Air Force and Navy had fewer than 1,000 cases each last year, according to the data from the Office of the Surgeon General on a chart released by the Army.
Military officials cautioned that the numbers represent only a small fraction of all service members who have PTSD because not included are those diagnosed by Department of Veterans Affairs workers or civilian caregivers, and those who avoid seeking care out of concern over stigma or damage to their careers.
"We're in our infancy right now of fully knowing what the extent of this is," Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, told defense reporters yesterday.
Service members with PTSD often feel constantly under threat, experience nightmares or intrusive thoughts in which they relive the horrors of losing comrades or being wounded in combat, and grow emotionally numb, causing their intimate relationships to suffer.
The military, like the country as a whole, faces a shortage of specialized health personnel to treat the growing ranks of troops with PTSD.
"As a nation . . . our mental health facilities and access to mental health providers is not adequate for the need right now," Schoomaker said. He said the Army is seeking to narrow the gap and has hired 180 of a planned 300 additional mental health specialists.
The incidence of PTSD grew last year as more U.S. troops were exposed to combat -- with force levels in Iraq and Afghanistan reaching more than 170,000 and 27,000, respectively. Also contributing were a lengthening of war zone rotations from 12 to 15 months and the rise in the number of troops serving repeated tours, which sharply increases the likelihood troops will experience symptoms of PTSD.
The military's ability to track the cases has also improved with the creation of an electronic medical-care record system in 2004, Schoomaker said.
As many as 30 percent of deployed soldiers suffer symptoms of PTSD, but the majority are expected to improve with early and appropriate treatment, he said.