Survey: Troops have lingering health concerns after return from combat

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 2, 2008

WASHINGTON — Half of all troops returning from combat zones report a lingering health concern six months later, according to data released by Defense officials this week.

The statistics, part of the reassessment of troops 90 to 180 days after deployment, also show 41 percent of servicemembers report psychosocial concerns and one in five report continued difficult functioning in their home environment. Of all those interviewed, 50 percent reported an unresolved injury or mental health concern.

Since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, military officials have been conducting a survey of troops’ health immediately after their overseas tour ends. But they added the delayed reassessment two years ago after medical experts said some signs of brain trauma and stress disorders can take up to six months to appear.

Dr. (Col.) Kenneth Cox, director of the department’s Global Health Surveillance office, said counselors have maintained about a 75 percent interview rate with returning troops, noting that reservists and guardsmen who don’t report daily to bases are sometimes difficult to locate and schedule within the three-month time frame.

But the office collected nearly 450,000 surveys in the program’s first 18 months and found that after spending time back home, many troops will report concerns they initially overlooked or hid.

About 24 percent reported an injury — things ranging from sore backs to serious battle wounds — in the initial postdeployment survey, but nearly 41 percent reported those problems in the second interview.

Similarly, only 7 percent of troops told counselors they suffered mental problems immediately after deployment, but 31 percent admitted having those types of difficulties three to six months later. The complaints included things like lack of focus at work, difficulty sleeping and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cox, who made the data available at this week’s Tricare conference in Washington, D.C., said those statistics have remained relatively consistent from month to month since adding the second survey.

The number of servicemembers asking for medical referrals also jumped from 23 percent immediately after deployment to 28 percent months later, but Cox said by the second interview most patients wanting additional medical consultation have already sought out help.

All of the data is self-assessment and is used by counselors to decide whether to refer patients to other physicians for medical treatment and evaluation of competency.

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