Press Release  | 03/01/2006

Army Reports that 1 in 3 Iraq Veterans Seeking Mental Heath Services Upon Return

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Drug Policy Alliance: Support our Troops and Offer Compassion and Treatment, Not a Jail Cell to Veterans who Self Medicate with Drugs

More than one in three soldiers who have served in Iraq have sought help for mental heath problems after returning from combat, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The authors, in an interview with USA Today, attributed the increase in veterans seeking mental health services to the trauma of war and the growing willingness to seek help. "Those coming back from Iraq have a great need for mental health services," says Col. Charles Hoge, a study co-author and a psychiatrist with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. "And we're pretty sure that's due to high frequency and intensity of combat experiences in Iraq."

The authors also warned that we may not have adequate resources to meet the mental health needs of returning veterans. James Scully of the American Psychiatric Association told USA Today, "We better be ready to see a lot of soldiers coming back (with problems) because it looks like the high-stress Iraq environment is likely to produce more people who need help."

The study found 19 percent of veterans showed signs of mental health problems in their answers to questions about suicide, personal conflicts or aggressive behavior.

Substance abuse experts and veterans groups warn that soldiers dealing with such problems are known to have higher rates of substance abuse problems. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 76 percent of veterans experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems. The Drug Policy Alliance is urging compassion and treatment for the veterans who self medicate with drugs because of the trauma of war.

"It is easy for people to buy a bumper sticker and demand that we 'Support the Troops', but if we are going to walk the talk, we better offer treatment--not a jail cell--when we help our brothers and sisters heal from the damages of war," said Tony Newman of the Drug Policy Alliance. "U.S. prisons are already filled with non-violent drug offenders, many serving long sentences for small amounts of drugs. Service members being incarcerated and separated from their families because of a drug addition will be yet more 'collateral damage' of this war."

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Tommy McDonald at (646) 335-2242

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