: Mental health problems of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t getting enough attention, a new report says. The Institute of Medicine urged the Veterans Affairs Department on 31 MAR to research how to care for veterans with traumatic brain injuries caused by roadside bombs. Traumatic brain injury can have long-term effects, including seizures, a reduced ability to think and reason, and dementia. The institute, the health wing of the National Research Council, is an independent organization that advises the U.S. government. “We heard repeatedly that there are not enough mental health providers to meet the demand,” said Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California at San Francisco, who was chair of a 16-member panel. “Job training and job loss due to multiple deployments are other serious issues facing these individuals, as is doctors’ ability to diagnose and treat traumatic brain injuries.”
The panel noted in the report that 10 to 20% of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have traumatic brain injuries, although other researchers have found this injury may account for up to a third of battlefield injuries. The report praised the work by Veterans Affairs to establish rehabilitation services for veterans with traumatic brain injuries after the wounds occur but said protocols are needed to manage the lifetime effects. The panel said the U.S. government should:
• Fund research on the readjustment needs of veterans, their families and the communities they return to, including the social and economic effects of multiple deployments.
• Prepare for the long-term needs of returning veterans with multiple traumas and traumatic brain injuries, including likely complications and rehabilitation services.
• Recruit more mental health professionals.
• Reduce the stigma of mental health treatment within the military.
• Examine whether the mental health needs of women returning from war are being met, including treatment for sexual harassment and assault.
• Consider a “third-location decompression” program, or sending military personnel to a location to readjust to a non-combat environment before returning home.
The Defense Department also needs to better address the reluctance of troops to report mental health problems and should review how it handles confidentiality in these cases, the study said. “The things we need to work on, we’ll definitely get started with,” Navy Capt. Edward Simmer said of the Defense Department’s response to the report. The report presents preliminary findings of a two-phase study of the needs of current and former service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. The first phase review was limited to scientific literature, media reports and testimony from veterans and families at town hall meetings. In April, the panel starts its second phase, a more detailed, two-year look at veterans’ health issues based on several continuing studies. [Source: CBC News 31 Mar 2010 ++]