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Many More Veterans Complain of Stress

Advocates worry federal medical centers won't be able to meet demand for mental-health care.

September 24, 2006|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — More than one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking medical treatment from the Veterans Health Administration report symptoms of stress or other mental disorders -- a tenfold increase in the last 18 months, according to an agency study.

The dramatic jump in cases -- coming as more troops face multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan -- has triggered concern among some veterans groups that the agency may not be able to meet the demand. They say veterans have had to cope with long waits for doctor appointments, staffing shortages and lack of equipment at medical centers run by the Veterans Affairs Department.

Contributing to the higher levels of stress are the long and often repeated tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

VA and Defense Department officials said the increase in reports of stress or mental disorder symptoms also may suggest that such problems carry less stigma, and that commanders and medical personnel are more adept at recognizing symptoms.

"It's definitely better than it was in past generations," said Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Veterans Affairs officials say they have increased funding for mental health services, have hired at least 100 more counselors and are not overwhelmed by the rising demands.

"We're not aware that people are having trouble getting services from us in any consistent way or pattern around the country," said Dr. Michael Kussman, acting undersecretary for health and top doctor at the VA.

Nearly 64,000 of the more than 184,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who have sought VA healthcare were diagnosed with potential symptoms of post-traumatic stress, drug abuse or other mental disorders as of the end of June, according to the latest report by the Veterans Health Administration.

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