WASHINGTON — Soldiers with three or more combat tours show increased rates of mental health problems, in part because they aren’t getting enough dwell time between deployments, according to new data from the Army.

Results from the 2007 Mental Health Advisory Team study, which surveyed almost 2,300 soldiers returning from Iraq and nearly 700 more from Afghanistan, noted nearly 28 percent of soldiers returning from their third tour showed signs of significant stress and mental health problems.

That’s well above the roughly 18 percent rate seen in troops returning from their first or second deployment.

Col. Charles Hoge, director of psychiatry at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, told members of a Senate health panel Wednesday at least part of the problem is the recovery time for troops.

The study notes that 12 months between deployments is “insufficient to reset the mental health of soldiers” and that some post-traumatic stress disorder cases can take up to a year after deployment to manifest themselves.

“It’s also important to keep in mind the length of deployment,” Hoge said. “When the Army deploys longer, they probably need more recovery time afterwards.”

Researchers did not recommend a specific dwell time, but study team leader Lt. Col. Paul Bliese said soldiers interviewed said they expected at least as much time at home as they spent overseas.

“If they spend 15 months in Iraq, they felt they deserved at least 15 months at home to recover,” he said.

Army officials have said their long-term goal is two years between deployments for soldiers, but since last spring units have been serving 15-month tours with 12 months at home in between.

This study, the fifth survey of soldiers, also showed that rates of combat stress disorders and depression are nearly the same among troops recently returning from Afghanistan as those returning from Iraq, a change from previous research which had shown slightly lower in Afghanistan.

Despite some negative trends, morale among soldiers in Iraq was slightly higher than previous surveys.

Researchers said they also were pleased to see less resistance to seeking help for mental health issues among those surveyed. Two years ago, 34 percent of troops thought such moves would hurt their careers, but last year 29 percent expressed such concerns.

The report recommends adding more civilian and military mental health personnel downrange to provide better access for servicemembers there, as well as making services such as marriage counseling more readily available to troops when they return home.

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