Some GIs have undergone second post-combat mental exams
January 31, 2005
While the Department of Defense will soon start requiring troops to undergo a series of mental health evaluations for post traumatic stress — both immediately upon returning from Iraq or Afghanistan and up to six months later — many soldiers in Europe have already undergone the evaluations.
The Department of Defense announced the new program last week, based on studies that showed that symptoms of mental health problems often occurred after troops returned to their normal routine.
The need for additional testing in Europe arose after soldiers from the Vicenza, Italy-based Southern European Task Force returning from a one-year deployment to Iraq last March.
Upon their return, only 6.5 percent of the soldiers tested positive for symptoms of mental health disorder. The low number didn’t seem accurate to the SETAF command, which ordered a new test four months later. The second test revealed that 15 percent of the soldiers showed symptoms.
The U.S. Army Europe ordered similar tests for months later for 1st Armored Division soldiers after they returned from Iraq last summer. Results were similar.
The delayed reaction could be due to a “bubble effect,” that is, all the changes that have taken place over the past year finally get a chance to set in, said Lt. Col. Paul Bliese, commander of the Army Medical Research Unit-Europe.
“In a combat situation, it’s adaptive to be aggressive and combat-alert,” Bleise said. “They’re kind of expecting to turn that off immediately when they return.
“The mind doesn’t work that way. It takes a while for those symptoms to dissipate.”
A study by Walter Reed Army Institute of Research released July 1, found that one of every six troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan showed a symptom of anxiety, depression or other mental health disorder months after their return.
“(Returning troops) might be unconsciously minimizing the stress and trauma they’ve been through,” according to Dr. (Lt. Col.) Steven Knorr, chief of the behavioral health division at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
“Then three-to-six months later, (they) might find themselves feeling a little different than they were pre-deployment.”
The tests will be given to identify troops experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anger, relationship problems, excessive alcohol consumption and trouble sleeping.
Officials in Europe said they found that troops might not show symptoms immediately after returning home or during 30-day block leave. But if months later they are still scanning rooftops for snipers or taking cover when a car backfires, they should consider talking to someone.
Many times the problem is minor, according to Dr. Kathleen Wright, a psychologist with the Army Medical Research Unit-Europe in Heidelberg, Germany.
“People don’t have to suffer needlessly,” Wright said. “(Many troops) seemed very relieved to be able to discuss it. Even that very brief intervention was helpful.”