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Iraq

Mental health crisis haunts front line U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq

Friday, October 27, 2006 by: Jerome Douglas
Tags: Iraq, U.S.military, mental health

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(NewsTarget) Soldiers returning from the front lines of Iraq are likely to have mental health disorders that the military will not have the funds to treat. In fact, a former military commander-in-chief describes today's overextended, under-equipped military as nearing the "breaking point."

In addition to Iraq, insurgent attacks in Afghanistan are surging this year as the Taliban rapidly regains power and popularity. Although the U.S. military is in Iraq in full force at this time, it is struggling with an increasingly bloody insurgency. Just recently, the Associated Press reported that October 2006 is on track to be the deadliest month of the war so far -- surpassing the death toll from November 2004, when 92 American Marines were killed and another 500 were wounded.

The male and female soldiers returning from Iraq's "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and from Afghanistan's "Operation Enduring Freedom" are already reportedly seeking mental disorder treatment in large numbers. In August, the Veterans Administration released a report showing that almost one-third of the nearly half-million vets from these two conflicts are seeking treatment from VA facilities. In addition, a full 35 percent of these vets received a diagnosis of a possible mental disorder, which was a tenfold increase in the past 18 months.

Instead of uncovering and treating mental health issues, it appears the fact that the military has to redeploy troops has led to some of the increase in demand for mental health treatment from returning service members.

The investigative reporters who researched "Mentally Unfit, Forced to Fight" concluded that the military was sending troops into combat despite knowing that they were suicidal or had other signs of mental illness. In 2005, there were 22 suicides among troops in Iraq -- nearly one in five non-combat deaths -- which was an all-time high.

Military commanders, rather than medical professionals, decide whether to retain troubled soldiers in the war zone, which has caused some controversy. U.S. soldier Pfc. Jason Scheurman -- who was stationed in Iraq -- was referred for a psychological evaluation and stripped of his gun after he wrote his mother a suicide note. Shortly after writing the letter he was "accused of faking his mental problems and warned that he could be disciplined -- according to what he told his family." After the U.S. Army gave Jason his gun back, he killed himself three weeks later with it.

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