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Friday, May 14, 2010

The High Price We Pay For War.

War is never pretty.  We in the United States are currently in at least two wars (even though they aren't declared wars and that doesn't count the military operations in Pakistan and other places).

We hear of the loss of the life but it now appears that there is a problem which is becoming far worse and which, thus far has gained little attention - mental health disorders. 

Anyone who has suffered or knows someone who has suffered with mental health issues knows the toll it takes on the individual, their families and those around them.  But we also know that for years these problems often go undetected and fester and create problems for all involved.

USA Today has an interesting article about mental health issues and how they have now become the number one health issue for our troops.  From the USA Today:
Mental health disorders caused more hospitalizations among U.S. troops in 2009 than any other reason according to medical data released recently by the Pentagon. This historic high reflects the growing toll of nearly nine years of war.
Hospitalizations for mental disorders have increased significantly among troops since 2005, said Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, surgeon general for the Army. "War is difficult. It takes a toll," he said.
In 2009, there were 17,538 hospitalizations for mental health issues throughout the military, the study shows. That compares with 17,354 for pregnancy and childbirth reasons, and 11,156 for injuries and battle wounds.
As bad as that sounds, it likely will become only worse.  As I mentioned, mental health issues develop over years and may take many more before they are diagnosed.  From the article:
The Pentagon is learning that mental health issues can take months or years to develop, he said. "Mental disorders are a trailing indicator of health issues to a prolonged period of war fighting, and these figures reflect that," DeFraites said.
The costs of treating mental disorders will only grow, said Christine Eibner, an economist with the RAND Corp. A night in a military hospital cost $3,000 in 2009, said Austin Camacho, a spokesman for the military health care program. When the Pentagon pays for private hospital care, the average daily cost is about $1,300, he said.
Across the U.S., one in three homeless individuals are veterans, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. And the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 260,000 vets are homeless at some point during the year (130,000 at any given time). And making matters worse Forty-five percent suffer from mental illness, and 50 percent have substance abuse issues.
The most effective programs for homeless and at-risk veterans, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, are community-based, nonprofit “veterans helping veterans” groups. These programs feature transitional housing along with the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are succeeding at bettering themselves. Because government money for homeless veterans is currently limited and serves only 1 out of every 10 who are in need, it’s critical that community groups reach out and provide support.
I do not like war and do not approve of the actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.  At the same time, if we as a Nation are going to put our young men and women at harm's risk, WE MUST take care of them when they return home.  It is a National Disgrace that we allow so many veterans to suffer.

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