Another heartbreaking tale of improper medical care for veterans from The Washington Post. This time, the article is about the lack of mental health care for mentally troubled veterans, especially when it comes to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While the Army excels at providing emergency trauma care for veterans injured in the body – only ten percent of wounded soldiers have died in this Iraq war, compared to 24 percent for the first Gulf war – the Army and Veterans Administration have consistently failed to adequately care for the injured brain. It’s as if the Army still subscribes to some version of dualism, in which the flesh is a machine (and can be fixed) and the mind is just a ghostly presence, immune to proper medical care.
Every month, 20 to 40 soldiers are evacuated from Iraq because of mental problems, according to the Army. Most are sent to Walter Reed along with other war-wounded. For amputees, the nation’s top Army hospital offers state-of-the-art prosthetics and physical rehab programs, and soon, a new $10 million amputee center with a rappelling wall and virtual reality center.
Nothing so gleaming exists for soldiers with diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, who in the Army alone outnumber all of the war’s amputees by 43 to 1. The Army has no PTSD center at Walter Reed, and its psychiatric treatment is weak compared with the best PTSD programs the government offers. Instead of receiving focused attention, soldiers with combat-stress disorders are mixed in with psych patients who have issues ranging from schizophrenia to marital strife.
Even though Walter Reed maintains the largest psychiatric department in the Army, it lacks enough psychiatrists and clinicians to properly treat the growing number of soldiers returning with combat stress. Earlier this year, the head of psychiatry sent out an “SOS” memo desperately seeking more clinical help.
Individual therapy with a trained clinician, a key element in recovery from PTSD, is infrequent, and targeted group therapy is offered only twice a week.