Military mental and behavioral health, including the impacts of combat trauma and its related aftermath (e.g. post-traumatic stress, complicated grief reactions, increased substance abuse and dependence, marital and familial discord, domestic violence, anxiety and depressive disorders, homelessness, increased suicide risk, etc.), are a widely recognized problem within our nation’s military. The consequences are far reaching, impacting individuals, couples, families, chaplains, caregivers and in some instances, organizational environments and even entire communities. The effects of combat deployment often remain hidden as large numbers of returning combat veterans fail to report PTSD symptoms and other psychological issues on their Post Deployment Health Risk Assessment (PDHRA) or to their peers.
In addition to tens of thousands of untreated PTSD cases that have arisen in this country over the past decade, the resulting secondary or vicarious traumatization of family members is also endemic and on the rise.
Hundreds of thousands more primary and secondary sufferers of PTSD can be added to the total current number when taking into account the battlegrounds of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm.
Without proper care, primary and secondary sufferers of combat trauma usually experience an intensification of symptoms over time that lead to the kinds of isolation and despair that promote psychological malaise and suicidal ideation.
For this reason, decisive intervention strategies are now needed to help counter what is rapidly deemed a national epidemic by the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.
It is for the purpose of providing just this kind of decisive intervention that the training, retreats, services and counseling resources of DNA Military exist.
The Persistent Challenge
U.S. troops, military families and veterans face significant and persistent challenges as they attempt to reintegrate back into the societal framework after combat and attempt to recover from the trauma of war and military service. These challenges do not merely impact one generation of our warriors, however. They are multi-generational in nature, impacting the lives of our veterans from the Vietnam era veterans (and before) to more recent OIF/OEF veterans and active duty military personnel. The impacts on military families are equally severe.
Some sobering statistics and trends indicating the magnitude and duration of these challenges are listed below:
- Every day, 30 U.S. military veterans attempt suicide. On average, 18 of these complete the act. Of the 30 attempts, 5 are already under VA supervision.
- Every day, roughly one active duty military service member completes the act of suicide, out of 5 attempts. While the per capita military suicide rate is historically less than the general population, today the military rate is almost double the national rate.
- The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the unemployment rate among 911 veterans at 15.2% in January 2011. A short sixteen months later in May 2012, CNN reports a significantly higher unemployment rate for these young veterans at 29.1%. The national average is 8.6%.
- Approximately one-third of our nation’s homeless are military veterans, with young veterans comprising an ever increasing segment of this population.
- The Rand study of 2008 estimates that PTSD and Depression among service members will cost the nation $6.2 billion in the 2 years after deployment. Investing in proper treatment for those in our military who experience these conditions would save up to $2 billion bi-annually.
- DOD and VA facilities are stretched. The August 2009 VA claims are backlogged 900,000. 1,350,000 backlogged in 2011. Despite considerable emphasis, these numbers continue to grow.
- 54% of reservists and guard members are more than 75 miles away from DOD and VA hospitals and support systems, decreasing the likelihood of their receiving adequate care.
- National Guard personnel experience a gap in benefits until retirement triggers at age 60 (granted only to ESs and above), creating significant economic duress for this population.
- In 2009, military children and teens sought outpatient mental healthcare 2 million times, reflecting an alarming occurrence of secondary PTSD among family members of military personnel.
- Illicit drug use in the military was 5% in 2005. Today, however, nonmedical use of prescription drugs is the most common form of drug abuse. In 2011, some estimates suggest that up to 20% of troops are addicted to prescription drugs. This has been identified as a major operational issue on a number of military bases.
Chaplains are important mental and spiritual health “first responders” at home and in combat. Compassion fatigue and burnout are prevalent in this critical population of caregivers.
Given the persistent and pervasive mental and behavioral health issues faced by our nation’s military personnel, veterans, and their families, it is clear that our nation’s warriors, veterans, and military families urgently need help. The nation which fails to heal its wounds of war, seen and unseen, is at great peril. Effective, decisive action must be taken promptly on their behalf. It is for this reason that DNA Military was created.