Today is national Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day. As the number of U.S. soldiers returning home from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq increase, so will the number of veterans struggling with this under-reported disease. To date, the military has diagnosed 78,000 cases of PTSD among veterans, but the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) says “the real number is closer to 800,000.” The latest military mental health survey finds that 20 percent (one in five) Afghanistan veterans suffer from “acute stress, depression or anxiety.” However, less than half — 46 percent — actually seek medical help. Without treatment, soldiers suffering from PTSD are more likely to face unemployment, domestic abuse, divorce, homelessness, and suicide among our troops:
— PTSD Creates More Unemployment: Post-9/11 veterans have an unemployment rate of “10.9 percent, compared to 8.5 percent unemployment overall.” That rate is actually higher than the rate for all veterans, which is 7.7 percent. The Labor Department recently found that “more than 20 percent of young Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were unemployed last year,” and some think PTSD is a contributing factor to this number. “People just frown upon us nowadays, thinking we’re all flying-off-the-handle crazy guys,” said one veteran to USA Today of employers. “They don’t even give us a chance.”
— PTSD Destroys Marriages: PTSD also takes a toll on marriages and other relationships. For example, research has found that 38 percent of “Vietnam veteran marriages failed within six months of the veteran’s return from Southeast Asia.” Research also finds that “veterans with PTSD are more likely to report marital or relationship problems, higher levels of parenting problems, and generally poorer family adjustment than veterans without PTSD.” A 2005 Pentagon study found that the divorce rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was up 78 percent since 2003.
— PTSD Leads To Domestic Violence: According to military mental health experts, “The increasing number of veterans with [PTSD] raises the risk of domestic violence and its consequences on families and children in communities across the United States.” VA research finds that “male veterans with PTSD are two to three times more likely than veterans without PTSD to engage in intimate partner violence and more likely to be involved in the legal system.” What’s more, several studies found that female partners of veterans with PTSD also “self-reported higher rates of perpetrating family violence than did the partners of veterans without PTSD” as PTSD “can also affect the mental health” of a veteran’s partner.
— PTSD Leads To Homelessness: There is an alarming rate of homelessness among America’s soldiers. While only 10 percent of the population, veterans make up one-third of the homeless population. The VA “estimates 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness.” A recent federal study found that “the 136,334 veterans who spent at least one night in a shelter” in 2009 amounted to “one of every 168 veterans in the USA and one of every 10 veterans living in poverty.” As the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans notes, a leading reason for the high rate is because at-risk veterans “live with lingering effects of [PTSD] and substance abuse.”
— PTSD Leads To Much Higher Rates Of Suicide Attempts: Studies show that having PTSD correlates to having a higher chance of committing suicide; over “50 percent of all trauma survivors worldwide will attempt suicide in their lifetimes.” The National Institute of Health estimates that people suffering from PTSD are six times more likely to committ suicide. Among the military population, suicide has reached alarming levels. American veterans now account for one in every five suicides. This past April, the Veterans Administration’s suicide hotline received a record number of calls — nearly 14,000 over the month, 400 a day. A VA investigation found last year that there were an average of 33 suicide attempts by veterans a day, with 18 being successful.
The prevalance of PTSD among Americans is a silent epidemic, and many of those who are suffering feel as if no one is speaking for them. But there are organizations you can contribute to that dedicate themselves to battling this plague, particularly among American veterans. The Disabled American Veterans, National Center for PTSD, USO, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and other organizations welcome your support.