Blogging today on Thinkprogress, Army Reserve Capt John Soltz - head of VoteVets.org - has posted a sad and disturbing report that although recent figures via the WaPo indicate that the rate of suicides by active duty members of our military is currently at it's highest point in 26 years, the rate of diagnosis for post traumatic stress disorder has strangely not kept pace - leaving many of these emotionally wounded soldiers undiagnosed, untreated, and at severe risk.
To get to the core of the issue, we have to look at the real reason for which combat troops and veterans would take their own lives. And that real issue — the larger issue — is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder The numbers of troops diagnosed by the military and the VA with PTSD are disturbingly low — especially when viewed by one who’s been in combat. Early in the war, the number given was around 30 percent. So the question becomes then, how do we reconcile these two figures — the high suicide rate with the low PTSD rate?
The next most obvious question is, of course, if PTSD is a leading cause of suicides among our troops - why is the rate of PTSD so low yet the rate of suicide so high?
Possibly because, like so many government services, before treatment is provided the potential patient has to run a gauntlet to prove that they've actually suffered an injury. And sometimes that proof is exactly what you don't want to see.
If you walk into a hospital and your arm is broken you have an X-Ray for proof. If you have cancer or HIV there is medical proof for the diagnosis. There is nothing in the medical community that can completely prove or disprove PTSD — that is until its too late. These increased suicide rates are a sign that were still not doing our jobs catching those with PTSD, before they reach a critical point.
And then there's another reason why it might be increasing difficult for those soldier potentially suffering from PTSD to find treatment. The cost.
It can’t be ignored that there’s a monetary "benefit" for the government if it keeps the count of PTSD down. The bar for qualifying for is kept unreasonably high. If a veteran is diagnosed with PTSD, it will cost our government money in care and disability, perhaps for the life of the person. So, while we’re not seeing a real increase in the cases of declared PTSD, we have seen an increase in the diagnosis of "adjustment disorder" and "pre-existing personality disorder," because those aren’t diagnoses the government will compensate our troops for. Not only does it deny troops financial disability, but also the mental services the system provides, leaving them all alone in society.
If you don’t think it’s accurate, I would remind you this is an administration that won’t even tell our country the names of soldiers wounded in war. They have a track record of dishonesty in supporting our veterans.
We have to look no further than the quality of outpatient care at Walter Reed Hospital, to understand how keeping both eyes on the bottom line can and has blinded the Department of Defense from giving our wounded soldiers the type of care they deserve.
But the true roots of the problem, and the issue of costs, go far deeper than Walter Reed as Paul Krugman pointed out earlier this year.
The quagmire in Iraq has vastly increased the demands on the Veterans Administration, yet since 2001 federal outlays for veterans’ medical care have actually lagged behind overall national health spending.
To save money, the administration has been charging veterans for many formerly free services. For example, in 2005 Salon reported that some Walter Reed patients were forced to pay hundreds of dollars each month for their meals.
More important, the administration has broken longstanding promises of lifetime health care to those who defend our nation. Two months before the invasion of Iraq the V.H.A., which previously offered care to all veterans, introduced severe new restrictions on who is entitled to enroll in its health care system.
What's worse is the fact that even those who have received care, and have been diagnosed with PTSD are being sent back into active duty - with prescriptions of anti-depressants.
As reported by the Hartford Courant, Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general, confirmed that there was a decision to send back soldiers to Iraq with symptoms or a diagnosis of PTSD stating that it was "something that we wrestle with," and partly driven by the military’s need to retain troops because of recruiting shortfalls.
Also, according to the Hartford Courant, one 26 year old Marine who was having trouble sleeping was put on a strong dose of Zoloft that carries warnings urging doctors to closely monitor new patients for suicidal urges. Within several months of starting that drug the Marine killed himself in Iraq.