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Thursday, February 15, 2007

U.S. Troops, Vets Not Getting Care They Need, Playboy Says

American troops fighting in Iraq and Iraq war veterans are not receiving the mental health care they deserve, specifically when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to an investigative report for Playboy magazine.

Journalist Mark Boal spoke with numerous mental health experts, government sources and former military personnel who paint adisturbing picture about the government's handling of PTSD, according to Playboy.

Boal found that the Department of Defense (DOD) diagnoses about 2,000 cases of PTSD a year. Yet according to a landmark study conducted by Army researchers and published in The New England Journal of Medicine, PTSD rates for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are running between 10 and 15 percent. That means one would expect to see the military diagnosing 13,000 to 20,000 cases of PTSD, Playboy says.

Former government officials agree there is a problem, according to Playboy.

"PTSD is being underdiagnosed on a fairly wholesale level," Playboy quotes Dr. Robert Roswell, a former undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as saying.

Sources in the Pentagon and former officials of the VA, doctors working for the VA and DOD are being pressured to limit diagnoses of PTSD in order to save the military money and manpower, reports Boal.

Budget pressures may be the motivation to discourage diagnoses of PTSD, according to the Playboy article, which reports that when the DOD submitted a war budget to Congress, the line item for mental health casualties was simply left blank.

"DOD never prepared for a long war; it never prepared for anoccupation," says one senior congressional staffer, according to Playboy. "Now we're seeing the third thing it didn't anticipate: what to do with the soldiers when they come home. Now they really don't have the money."

Boal discovered politics may also be a factor, Playboy says.

"The soldier has tremendous symbolic power in American politics. Healthy, happy soldiers bespeak a just war. Like the amputees and flag-draped coffins the administration hides from public view, such soldiers are antithetical to the hawkish goal of mitigating the costs of the conflict," writes Boal."The critical difference is that mental illness isn't always obvious and is therefore easier to sweep under the rug."

As one congressional staffer puts in the Playboy story, "It's much easier to deny the reality of mental illness than it is to deny the spinal cord injury of some guy sitting in a wheelchair."

When questioned for the piece, Pentagon and VA officials vigorously denied there is a policy to underdiagnose PTSD, Playboy says.

"That would be immoral and unethical," Playboy quotes Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, the assistant secretary of defense for troop readiness as saying.

Officials attribute the low rates of diagnosis to a reluctance on the part of military doctors to "stigmatize the person or bring harm to their careers" by labeling them with PTSD according to Lieutenant Colonel Dr. Charles Engel, the director of the deployment health clinic center at Walter Reed Medical Center. "It's out of respect for the patient that they don't make the diagnosis."

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