Feds can't keep up with ills from two wars, scientists say

A mask, painted by a Marine who attends art therapy to relieve post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, is displayed at an art expo in May, 2012. The expo provided a way to raise awareness about PTSD and the benefits of art therapy.


By GREGG ZOROYA AND GREG TOPPO | USA Today | Published: March 27, 2013

The federal government is failing to keep pace with a torrent of ailments and issues generated by two wars for the more than 2 million Americans who served overseas since 9/11, according to a sweeping assessment by a panel of leading scientists.

The nearly 800-page study, completed over four years by the Institute of Medicine and released Tuesday, portrays a nation struggling to anticipate and understand consequences of a decade of war and grueling demands placed on its military and unprecedented kinds of wounds troops have suffered.

The Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs are trying to help, but "the response does not match the magnitude of the problems, and many readjustment needs are unmet or unknown," says the report by the institute, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

The nation waged war in Iraq and Afghanistan in unprecedented ways, the study found, using a limited-size, all-volunteer force; deploying troops repeatedly for up to 15 or 18 months at a time; allowing less than a year of rest between tours; and filling the military's ranks with historically high numbers of women, parents, National Guard troops and reservists.

"The urgency of addressing these issues is heightened by the sheer number of people affected, the rapid drawdown of personnel from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the long-term effects that many of the issues might have, not only on military personnel and veterans and their family but on the country as a whole," the study found.

The study was the result of 2008 federal legislation directing the Pentagon to learn more about the readjustment needs of returning troops.

"These are extraordinary challenges," said Dr. George Rutherford, who chaired the group that produced the report. "We are learning as we're going. I think the VA and (Defense Department) have really exerted extraordinary efforts to try and get it right ... but there are some areas that need to be improved."

To this day, almost nothing is known about long-term outcomes of signature, war-related problems such as mild traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal tendencies, the scientists found.

Other key findings:

  • While many veterans emerge from war without issues, others have challenges that will follow them all their lives.
  • The system does not provide treatment for all who need it.
  • The Pentagon, VA and other federal agencies fail to share data on veterans issues.

The Defense Department is "committed to taking care of our people" and will "thoughtfully consider the study's key findings and recommendations," spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said.

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