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- Mental Illness: More than 300 000 returning soldiers treated for mental illness since 2004
Half of Iraq and Afghanistan Vets in VA System Treated for Mental Illness
More than 330 000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have now received mental health treatment in the VA health system. For a typical returning soldier it takes an average of 4 years to access mental health benefits.
In 2004, about 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in the VA health system were being treated for mental health problems. That number has now risen to over 50%, with a whopping 331 514 recent war veterans having received mental health treatment. Of this number, 192 114 soldiers required treatment for PTSD.
These numbers come from a report released by the soldier’s advocacy organization, Veterans for Common Sense. VA Spokesperson Laurie Tranter said the large upswing in mental health treatment numbers likely reflects better screening techniques and improved overall access to mental health services. She reported that the VA had increased its mental health staffing by more than 40% since 2002 to meet this increased demand, and now employed over 20 000 mental health workers.
Not everyone, however, feels that the VA is doing enough for returning soldiers with mental illness. In an inquiry, a federal appeals court found that for a typical returning soldier, accessing mental health benefits takes an average of four years.
In a written review statement released yesterday, federal Judge Stephen Reinhart summed up the thoughts of the three member judicial panel, writing, “Although the VA is obligated to provide veterans mental health services, many veterans with severe depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) are forced to wait weeks for mental health referrals… For those who commit suicide in the interim, care does not come soon enough.”