HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Monday, November 15, 2004

Soldiers and Mental Illness

Over the weekend, the LATimes reported that as many as one in six returning soldiers suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.   The LATimes story focuses on a recent study conducted by Walter Reed Army Institute of Research that found that "15.6% of Marines and 17.1% of soldiers surveyed after they returned from Iraq suffered major depression, generalized anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder — a debilitating, sometimes lifelong change in the brain's chemistry that can include flashbacks, sleep disorders, panic attacks, violent outbursts, acute anxiety and emotional numbness."   Further the LATimes said that such results should come as no surprise to anyone with knowledge about the toll of wartime service.  It states,

"Combat stress disorders — named and renamed but strikingly alike — have ruined lives following every war in history. Homer's Achilles may have suffered from some form of it. Combat stress was documented in the late 19th century after the Franco-Prussian War. After the Civil War, doctors called the condition "nostalgia," or "soldiers heart." In World War I, soldiers were said to suffer shell shock; in World War II and Korea, combat fatigue or battle fatigue.  But it wasn't until 1985 that the American Psychiatric Assn. finally gave a name to the condition that had sent tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans into lives of homelessness, crime or despair." 

The LATimes concludes that unfortunately, even with all this knowledge, the Army failed to send the appropriate number of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers to combat areas and Congress had allocated only $5 million in each of the next three years to deal with the soldiers' medical needs.   I know this isn't surprising given the apparent lack of planning that went into other aspects of the war in Iraq but it is rather sad that we fail to provide adequate treatment for serious mental illness in this country, especially when service to the country is somewhat responsible for the mental illness.

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