Mental health problems surface in vets not involved in Iraq war

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(Host) Veteran’s Administration doctors have been monitoring soldiers returning from Iraq for signs of combat related stress.

But researchers with the VA Medical Center in White River Junction say there are also indications of increased mental health problems among some veterans who weren’t involved in the war.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Researcher Alan West and psychiatrist William Weeks compared data on veterans aged 18 to 44 in two national mental health surveys. One survey was conducted in 2000 and the other one in 2003. Comparing the two surveys, West says they found one significant change in young vets.

(West) “These people were reporting substantially, dramatically more days of mental health problems in 2003 than they were in 2000.”

(Zind) The number of younger veterans who reported problems more than doubled during the most intense period of Iraq combat in 2003. Thirty six percent of them said they experienced mental health-related problems. . The survey contains no specifics about the types of difficulties they experienced.

There was no increase in mental health related problems among older Veterans. West speculates that the one reason the increase occurred only among young vets is because a third of them had served in the first Iraq war. It was easier for them to relate to what their counterparts in 2003 were experiencing. West says similar responses have been documented in other studies.

(West) “There is other research that suggests that sort of thing – that people who feel they can identify with people who have experienced traumatic events may have a more sympathetic reaction.”

(Zind) The researchers say it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from the study that could be used in to make policy decisions, but they say their findings warrant a further look at a phenomenon that hasn’t been documented until now.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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