Mental Health Issues Keep Service Members Hospitalized Longer Than War Wounds, Injuries, And Illness

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Mental health problems like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) kept U.S. service members hospitalized for more days in 2012 than war wounds, accidental injuries, and physical illness did, according to data from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.

Out of all outpatient hospital visits and inpatient stays by service members, over 19 percent were for a mental health issue — second only to injuries and poisonings. For hospital trips that required inpatient care, mental disorders comprised the most days spent in a hospital by far despite the fact that only 26 percent of all hospitalizations involved a mental health problem:

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CREDIT: USA Today/Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center

The only service members who had to stay in a hospital for longer than mental health patients were those with “severe amputations” and extensive rehabilitation and physical therapy requirements, according to USA Today.

Army officials attribute the long hospital stays for mental health problems to recent wars in the Middle East. “The increase in mental health hospitalizations is most likely influenced by exposure of servicemembers to stressful events associated with deployment to” Afghanistan and Iraq, said Army Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson, a spokeswoman for Pentagon health affairs, in an interview with USA Today.

Officials also project that the trend toward an increasing number of veterans requiring extensive mental health services will begin to reverse itself substantially this year as the Iraq and Afghan wars wind down. At least 15 percent of service members returning from the conflicts suffer from PTSD.

Unfortunately, the medical safety net for American veterans hasn’t enjoyed the best record in recent years. Claims processing backlogs at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have left close to a million service members without the care that they need. In some regions, the waiting period for getting mental health treatment is so long that veterans have been committing suicide while waiting for their care.