In our opinion: Veterans deserve more support against PTSD

Published: Monday, Nov. 11 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

In this June 21, 2013 photo, U.S. Army Col. David Rabb, left, speaks to a group of current and former military personnel about the stresses of combat during a presentation at the Pathway Home in Yountville, Calif.

Mihir Zaveri, Associated Press

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It's customary on Veterans Day to stage events reflecting national pride and appreciation for those who served in the military. This year, there also is an opportunity to recognize advances made over the last decade to help a large number of veterans suffering from a condition that previously was largely misunderstood and often ignored.

Several million veterans are plagued by problems associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Once known as "shell shock" or "combat fatigue," the condition has many symptoms and if untreated, the consequences are often tragic. The rates of homelessness and drug and alcohol dependency are far higher among veterans than in the general population. The suicide rate is inordinately high, claiming more than 8,000 veterans every year.

Only in the last decade or so, as troops have returned from engagements in the Middle East, have the government and medical establishment begun to seriously address the problem. A large number of public and private support organizations and research consortia are now deployed against it, and their work is producing results.

Treatment programs are reaching a much higher percentage of veterans, and the quality of the treatment is vastly improved. The Veterans Administration says since 2006, the number of treatment visits per diagnosed veteran has steadily increased, reversing previous trends. The VA is now spending $1 billion a year to deal with the problem of homelessness.

Public awareness has risen exponentially. This month, several high-profile entertainers performed at Madison Square Garden to raise money for treatment and assistance. The foundation that sponsored the event has raised more than $20 million in just a few years.

All over the country, efforts are arising to deal with the problem in specific communities. Just this month, a program was announced in Kentucky to enhance and expand counseling opportunities. In Pennsylvania, where more than a million vets reside, the state Department of Public Welfare announced a joint effort with the federal Departments of Military and Veterans Affairs to provide additional diagnostic and treatment resources. In North Carolina, an innovative effort has resulted in the creation of a special Veterans Treatment Court to deal with those in trouble with the law due to PTSD-related behavior.

These efforts are all worthy of applause, but many challenges remain. Particularly troubling is the fact that veterans seeking treatment routinely have to wait weeks or longer before they can see a specialist. That's largely because of a huge and growing demand. More than 1.5 million veterans recently have returned from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's estimated that 1 in 5 of them suffers from some form of PTSD.

Another 1 million veterans are scheduled to return from combat zones in coming months. It's important to take a day to remind them of the nation's appreciation. It's more important every day to work to help them overcome the problems they may bring back from their tours of duty.

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