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One Third of US Troops Suffer from Mental Health Problems

More bad news for the Bush administration in the US. A Defence Department panel has warned that continued engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan is posing a serious challenge on two fronts.

One, soldiers are at an ever greater risk of mental health problems. Second at the current level of staffing and funds, the military health care will not be able to provide those affected necessary statement.

In a damning revelation, the Defense Department's Task Force on Mental Health chaired by Navy Surgeon General Donald Arthur said more than one-third of troops and veterans currently suffer from problems such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Approximately 10% of Soldiers and Marines report mistreating non-combatants (damaged/destroyed Iraqi property when not necessary or hit/kicked a non-combatant when not necessary)," the report said.

"Soldiers that have high levels of anger, experienced high levels of combat or screened positive for a mental health problem were nearly twice as likely to mistreat non-combatants as those who had low levels of anger or combat or screened negative for a mental health problem," it."

Branding Pentagon policies overly conservative and out-of-date, the task force called for more money and a fundamental shift in treatment to focus on prevention and screening, rather than simply relying on soldiers to come forward on their own for treatment.

It pointed out there was a stigma attached to mental health problems and many soldiers feared they would be ridiculed or their careers damaged if they were to acknowledge having problems.

The four-page summary of findings, which will be incorporated in a final report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in June, comes amid renewed attention on troop and veterans care following recent disclosures of shoddy outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the premier care facility for soldiers in Washingt on.

The task force found 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of Marines report psychological concerns such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from deployment.

Among members of the United States National Guard, a component of the army and air foce, the figure is much higher, 49 percent, with numbers expected to grow because of repeated deployments.

"Soldiers and Marines experiencing high levels of combat are three times as likely to screen positive for a mental health problem compared to Soldiers and Marines who experiences relatively low levels of combat," the report says.

Soldiers had lower morale and more mental health problems than their counterparts in the Marine Corps, the report says.

In recent weeks, several U.S. senators have pointed to problems in the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs' mental health care (VA), citing the Army's Fort Carson in Colorado where some troops have said their pleas for mental health care went unanswered or were met with ridicule.

In its report, the task force, which visited 38 military bases in the four armed services within the past year, confirmed many of the lawmakers' fears.

Both the VA and the Pentagon in recent weeks have acknowledged a need to improve mental health treatment. Jan Kemp, a VA associate director for education who works on mental health, has estimated there are up to 1,000 suicides a year among veterans within the VA system, and as many as 5,000 a year among all living veterans.

Senators Barbara Boxer and Joe Lieberman last week proposed legislation that would establish military medical centers dedicated to treating mental illness and brain injuries in troops returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under the legislation, the Pentagon would establish at least two specialized centers designed to lead research, develop treatment standards and t rain health workers on care for mental illness and brain injuries incurred during war.


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