Survey: Newest wounded veterans struggling but resilient
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 10, 2013
WASHINGTON — Three in four troops wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress and even more struggle with depression, according to a new survey released Tuesday by the Wounded Warrior Project.
The report — the most comprehensive look to date at the next generation of disabled veterans — chronicles the struggles facing that population but also several positive signs of their ability to adapt.
More than 85 percent of individuals surveyed said they had friends or family they could rely on to help with their challenges, and more than half said they believe they have the strength to overcome their injuries.
The annual survey polled nearly 12,000 group alumni injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, representing about one-quarter of the total wounded troops from those wars. The results give a snapshot of wounded troops struggling with mental health issues, readjustment to civilian society, and serious concerns about their long-term quality of life.
Jen Silva, executive vice president of economic empowerment at the Wounded Warrior Project, the large number of respondents also shows that “these wounded veterans feel the need to tell their story.”
After injury-related health issues — 83 percent of those surveyed said their injuries contributed to gaining too much weight, and 80 percent said they had trouble sleeping — the biggest concern for most wounded veterans was finances.
Fewer than one-fourth of the injured alumni have a bachelor’s degree or higher; another third are attending college. Two in five said their financial situation was worse than a year ago.
Only about half of those who have found full-time work are happy in their careers, and 30 percent reported that lingering mental health issues are hurting their chances at getting a good job.
But a third of wounded troops surveyed reported difficulty getting mental health care, either because of obstacles with the military and Department of Veterans Affairs or because of concerns related to the stigma of seeking help.
About one-fifth of the wounded veterans reported abusing alcohol in the prior month.
WWP officials said the survey results show a need for more mental health resources for wounded veterans, as well as more job placement and emotional support programs.
Silva said the results also show the need for a holistic approach to approaching veterans’ struggles.
Depression and anxiety can be mitigated with exercise, she noted, but often social activity becomes a burden because of those underlying mental health issues. So advocates need to approach issues like weight gain and depression together, rather than with separate programs.
Study authors also noted that the general themes of the report tracked with past years’ surveys showing both the patience of injured veterans in facing life’s difficulties but the persistent challenges they face.