Researchers: Alcohol misuse, divorce rates higher among returning troops
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 9, 2005
WASHINGTON — Army researchers saw alcohol misuse rise from 13 percent among soldiers to 21 percent one year after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, underscoring the continuing stress of deployment for some troops.
In post-deployment reassessment data completed in July, researchers also saw soldiers with anger and aggression issues increase from 11 percent to 22 percent after deployment. Those planning to divorce their spouse rose from 9 percent to 15 percent after time spent in the combat zone.
And that’s just the start of the problems, according to military family support groups.
“At the end of the day, wounded servicemembers have wounded families,” said Joyce Wessel Raezer, government relations director for the National Military Family Association. “More must be done to link servicemembers and families with the services they need and the information about PTSD and other mental health issues.”
The data and other testimony about the effects of deployment stress came at a briefing called by House Democrats on Thursday to look at the issue of mental health care and resources for servicemembers.
Nearly 1,600 people responded to an NMFA online survey this summer about deployment and post-deployment issues. To ease their stress and that of their loved ones, families wanted to know:
- More about what servicemembers are experiencing in the combat zone. “Forewarned is forearmed,” said one respondent.
- The normal behaviors associated with a deployment to a war zone and warning signs of something more serious.
- How long it should take before a servicemember “gets back to normal.”
- What they should do when they encounter unusual behavior.
In the survey, families also suggested that every servicemember and family go through mandatory counseling upon the servicemember’s return, to get around the stigma of seeking help.
Also, parents of single servicemembers felt ignored, even though unmarried military make up nearly half of deployed troops. But unlike spouses, parents of those troops are not given military ID cards and are often not able to access information and services available to military couples.
Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., said he organized the briefing because he believes the military health care system still isn’t fully prepared to deal with troops with post-traumatic stress disorder. Defense Department officials estimate about 18 percent of troops in Iraq and 11 percent in Afghanistan will develop PTSD.
“We commit a serious disservice to veterans and their families if we only focus on the veteran with PTSD,” he said. “Congress must act to improve the Defense Department’s and (Department of) Veterans Affairs’ capacity to have a family-centered approach to treating it.”
Dr. Charles Figley, director of Florida State University’s Traumatology Institute, said those types of stress problems, if left untreated, can become more serious health issues like PTSD. He said more needs to be done to fund mental health care programs for the returning troops.
He also predicted thousands of veterans in dire need of mental health services — “another Katrina-type disaster as these people leave the service and flood the VA” — if more resources aren’t made available to servicemembers and their families.
Charles Flora, associate director of the office of readjustment counseling with the Department of Veterans Affairs, said he believes the department is providing adequate services to recently separated troops with stress disorders. But when pressed by Democrats about funding for the future, he noted that the VA’s mental health experts are “running at close to capacity.”
Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director of the Defense Department’s deployment health support directorate, said officials are working not only to better identify at-risk troops — largely through post-deployment surveys — but also to better inform them of counseling resources available to them.
But House Democrats at the briefing said more needs to be done to monitor the troops’ health, especially for guardsmen and reservists who may not be under as close observation as active-duty servicemembers.