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PTSD Symptoms May be Delayed for Years
Associated Press
September 05, 2007

DENVER - Veterans groups say a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry shows that the U.S. military is underestimating the extent of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder problem for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The comprehensive review of studies of PTSD, published this week, found that in many cases combat veterans did not manifest the symptoms for years.

"The military studies consistently showed high rates of delayed-onset PTSD," the report said.

"It's pretty common knowledge that its effects often do not appear for months or longer. But this is groundbreaking for Vietnam veterans and it means we should do something for newer veterans and not just let it lay there," said Steve Robinson, a Gulf War veteran and director of veterans affairs for Veterans for America.

Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, said the Department of Veterans Affairs needs more doctors as well as more workers to process claims more quickly.

"Because of the surge of Iraq and Vietnam veterans now overwhelming the VA, if the rules aren't changed more veterans will suffer broken homes, lost jobs, substance and alcohol abuse and even homelessness," Sullivan said.

These groups and some members of Congress had been critical of the Army for misdiagnosing cases of PTSD, but this year the military stepped up efforts to recognize both PTSD and mild brain damage resulting from improved explosive devices, the signature wound of the Iraq war.

"It is well-documented that for some people PTSD doesn't emerge for many years. For some it comes and goes over many years," said Dr. Laurie Leitch, a psychotherapist and research psychologist who has studied the issue.

"From our experience in just the four and a half years of combat in Iraq we have seen psychiatric injury manifest itself months and sometimes years after a first deployment and some of that is compounded with second, third and sometimes fourth deployments. We have no assurance that any of our loved ones are safe or sound. They will be at risk for decades to come," said Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out.

"They wave their flag when you attack, when you come back they turn their back," Lessin said, quoting a cadence the group's members chant when they march in protest.

Army doctors recognize that PTSD may only appear months after veterans return, but delays for years would be beyond the capability of the military's medical system or Veterans Affairs hospitals, said Lessin. The Centers for Disease Control says identifying PTSD can be very difficult.

Col. Kelly Wolgast, director of Fort Carson's Evans Army Community Hospital, recently said that in addition to being examined immediately after their return from Iraq, soldiers would be re-examined in six to eight months.

The report this week said in some cases World War II and Korean War veterans did not show the symptoms of PTSD for 30 years, though it could not be ruled out that they had experienced some that had not been noticed or diagnosed.

The authors looked at 74 studies, narrowing them down based on the reliability of their definitions of PTSD to 10 case studies and 19 group studies. Some car accident victims also did not experience PTSD's effects for months or years.

The authors were Bernice Andrews, professor of psychology at Royal Holloway University of London, Chris Brewin, professor of psychology at University College London, Rosanna Philpott of Royal Holloway University of London, and Lorna Stewart, a research psychologist. Their work was done under contract with the British Ministry of Defense.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press.


 


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