CNN: Troops face 'epidemic of mental illness'
David Edwards
Published: Tuesday March 13, 2007
Print This  Email This

Nearly one in three soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan reports a mental problem, according to a newly released study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

The study examines data from 103,788 veterans treated by the Veterans Administration, which shows that 32,010 returning vets were diagnosed with mental health and/or psychosocial problems. More than one half of those diagnosed with mental problems suffered two or more disorders.

CNN's Paula Zahn talked with Paul Rieckhoff, President of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), who is concerned that the Bush administration has failed to plan for treating health problems of returning soldiers.

"These numbers are -- are entirely predictable," Rieckhoff said. "And -- and the problem is that the pieces weren't put in place ahead of time, as a part of a complete war plan, to embrace these veterans and give them the proper care, resources, and transitional services that they need when they come home."

Rieckhoff pointed out that this new study doesn't predict the number of mental health disorders that the Veteran's Administration will need to treat as more soldiers transition back into civilian life.

"The study that you outlined only explores the number of people who have actually gone to the VA so far," Rieckhoff told Zahn. "And those numbers are about 200,000 of the 1.6 million people who have been through Iraq and Afghanistan."

Riechoff added, "So, in the next few years, we're going to see an increasing flood of these folks coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health issues. And, right now, the VA is already overwhelmed. The rural areas, Western areas are particularly overextended, because they're not adjusting to the new demographic shifts from a new war. The VA is still running to catch up. Walter Reed and the problems there have illustrated how our country is unable and unready to receive them. But I worry that that's just really the tip of the iceberg."

The following video report is from CNN's Paula Zahn Now. The complete transcript is available from CNN.