Military sees spike in number of PTSD cases
Stars and Stripes May 28, 2008
ARLINGTON, Va. — The number of soldiers and Marines diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder jumped tenfold from 2003 to 2007, according to statistics released by the Army’s surgeon general Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, who also heads U.S. Army Medical Command, attributed the rise in the Army numbers in part to the increase in the overall number of soldiers exposed to combat and better record-keeping by the service.
But he also said that clinicians today "have a higher sensitivity to diagnosing" the condition than they did back in 2003, and researchers still have much to learn about why some people develop PTSD.
"I think we’re still in our infancy of fully knowing how to track it," Schoomaker said.
According to Army data, 10,049 soldiers who had been deployed to in combat zones were diagnosed with PTSD in 2007.
In 2003, the number of cases was 1,020. The number of Army PTSD cases has risen each year since the start of combat operations in Iraq.
The PTSD diagnoses came from troops using the military health care system and deployed in deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom, Schoomaker said.
Cases of PTSD also rose significantly among deployed Marines, according to the data. In 2003 officials diagnosed 206 Marines with PTSD; in 2007, there were 2,114 cases.
Army surveys have found that the more often a soldier is deployed, the more likely he or she is to experience signs or symptoms of PTSD, Schoomaker said.
"We know that human beings exposed to that environment are susceptible to developing symptoms [of PTSD]," he said. "Soldiers are human beings, and they are subject to extreme stress [in Iraq and Afghanistan]."
Schoomaker cautioned that the data he provided does not necessarily paint a complete picture of PTSD among soldiers.
The Army, like the other services, has no way to collect information on members who go outside the military health care system and use private mental health care providers, and that information is kept confidential in most cases, he said.
This doctor-patient confidentiality is important as the Army continues to battle the stigma associated with mental health issues, whether it is inside the military system or outside, Schoomaker said.
"We want to minimize soldiers’ perceptions that they are being watched," he said.
The Air Force recorded 190 cases of PTSD in 2003, and the Navy recorded 216. In 2007, there were 871 airmen diagnosed with the condition, and 947 sailors. The Army has made up the bulk of personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan zones since 2003.