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Statistics, Effects and the Realities of Multiple Deployments

All Posts  January 31 2009
 — By Scott Lee

I finally found the data that I have been looking for. I have been scouring the internet for raw statistics on how many deployments soldiers have been on. I actually found it by not looking for it. I was checking out the website Veterans for America (VFA) and came across some reports on the strains on the Guard units fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For our WWI and WWII vets it was to suffer in silence, for our Korean and Vietnam vets the denial of such suffering, and for my generation of Desert Storm vets the myth of the “Jarhead” movie as a common experience and of the denial of the Gulf War Syndrome (which was recently acknowledged by the US government) and now with our modern veterans, the effects and realities of multiple deployments.

Preliminary self-reported rates of PTSD from OIF and OEF have reached 15% already according to Hoge et al. (with a 15-40% lifetime rate after combat; Hoge & Castro, 2005 para. 2) and we continue to have naysayers saying the problem could not be as bad as we say it is. How many times have our veterans been on the receiving end of this same kind of generational denial and recrimination?

Rand (2008b) reports,

[O]f the 1.64 million service members who had been deployed for OEF/OIF as of October 2007, we estimate that approximately 300,000 individuals currently suffer from PTSD or major depression and that 320,000 individuals experienced a probable TBI during deployment (p. xxi).

These figures taken with the above place estimate levels of PTSD today in soldiers and veterans of our nations modern wars at 23%.

The data on multiple tours was quite disturbing, due the fact that soldiers and veterans who have more than one deployment have significantly higher rates of mental health problems. Quoted directly from the horses mouth, the Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT) V, the military’s own research arm reports,

Soldiers on multiple deployments report low morale, more mental health problems, and more stress-related work problems. Soldiers on their third/fourth deployment are at particular risk of reporting mental health problems (MHAT V, 2008, Sec. 2.2.2, No. 8).

VFA reported on October 8, 2008 that 1,321,019 soldiers had been deployed to wars abroad, 796,483 (60%) had been deployed once, and that 469,095 soldiers had been deployed 2 to 3 times (36%), and 55,441 (4%) had been deployed 4 to 6 times. With multiple tours our modern veterans will become exponentially more vulnerable to join the ranks of the walking wounded. “Department of Defense [DOD] studies prove that with each deployment Soldiers are 60% more likely to develop severe post-combat mental health problems” (italics and bold type added; Veterans for America, n.d.).

In the monograph, a truncated report,  titled “Invisible Wounds of War,” recently published by Rand (2008a),

Early evidence suggests that the psychological toll of these deployments—many involving prolonged exposure to combat-related stress over multiple rotations—may be disproportionately high compared with the physical injuries of combat. Concerns have been most recently centered on two combat related injuries in particular: posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Many recent reports have referred to these as the signature wounds of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. With the increasing concern about the incidence of suicide and suicide attempts among returning veterans, concern about depression is also on the rise (p. iii).

The report adds,

The pace of the deployments in these current conflicts is unprecedented in the history of the all-volunteer force (Belasco, 2007; Bruner, 2006). Not only is a higher proportion of the armed forces being deployed, but deployments have been longer, redeployment to combat has been common, and breaks between deployments have been infrequent (Hosek, Kavanagh, and Miller, 2006). At the same time, episodes of intense combat notwithstanding, these conflicts have produced casualty rates of killed or wounded that are historically lower than in earlier prolonged conflicts, such as Vietnam and Korea. Advances in both medical technology and body armor mean that more servicemembers are surviving experiences that would have led to death in prior wars (Regan, 2004; Warden, 2006). However, casualties of a different kind—invisible wounds, such as mental health conditions and cognitive impairments resulting from deployment experiences—are just beginning to emerge (p. 2).

The Psychiatric Times reports a “gathering storm” due to the estimate that 70% of soldiers and veterans will not seek help from federal agencies (DoD or the VA), placing an undue strain on private facilities and practitioners. With this in mind the public sector of mental health has little to no preparation for the oncoming onslaught of help seeking veterans and soldiers.

At the website VA Watchdog, a reprint story on a Massachusetts commission found that veterans were not “receiving adequate treatment and readjustment assistance.” A summation of a member of the commission, state Rep. Harold P. Naughton,

said the public also should understand that the operational tempo of the current wars has exposed troops to combat for upward of 200 days at a time, far longer periods of uninterrupted combat exposure than most troops experienced in World War II or Vietnam (VAWatchdog.org).

The much reported mental health screening process during processing from combat duty has little to no effect on reporting the actual numbers of soldiers who have received psychological damage.

More than 50% of those referred for a mental health reason were documented to receive follow-up care although less than 10% of all service members who received mental health treatment were referred through the screening program (Hoge, Auchterlonie, and Milliken, 2006, p. 1023).

Hoge et al. (2006) goes on to ponder the reasons for such high numbers of non-diagnosed veterans,

This study shows that approximately one third of OIF veterans accessed mental health services in their first year after deployment, 12% per year received a diagnosis of a mental health problem, and an additional 23% per year were seen in mental health clinics but did not receive a diagnosis. It is not clear why there was such high use of mental health services without a mental illness diagnosis (p. 1030).

Hmmmmm, let me take a wild stab at it. Take it from a combat veteran who had attempted to receive help for PTSD through the combative VA system 7 times over 15 years. The systemic denial of veterans benefits has a strong bureaucratic resistance to give any compensable diagnosis coupled with “protecting the budget.”

Compounding the issue for veterans and soldiers receiving help for mental health issues is the stigma attached to such help. Stereotypical views within the military culture still hold a pervasive foothold in the minds of soldiers as to the nature and problem of psychological wounds.

Similarly, Hoge et al. [2004] found that of the soldiers and Marines who met the criteria for being diagnosed with a mental health problem, only 38 to 45% indicated an interest in receiving help: furthermore, within the previous year, only 23 to 40% reported actually receiving professional help (Brit, Greene-Shortridge, and Thomas, 2007, p. 1).

I witnessed this mentality of denial when looking into the eyes of my primary care and mental health personnel as I cycled through suicidal ideation, several episodes of psychosis, severe depression, addiction, homelessness, unemployability and complete disengagements from reality, society and loved ones. Proof positive of this phenomenon, quoted from the infamous email from a VA hospital’s PTSD program coordinator, Norma Perez,

Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veteran, I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnoses of PTSD straight out. consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder, R/O [rule out] PTSD (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington).

Repeated deployments will have unforeseen consequences for our veterans and soldiers. Never before in the history of warfare have we exposed our soldiers to such prolonged combat and sustained redeployments with little to no down time needed for decompressing stressed out psyches. Combine this with the governments slow to respond, cavalier attitudes and dismissal of the magnitude and scope of the problem, our veterans and soldiers suffer in silence and when the killing, death and deprivation becomes to much to bear, they take their own lives in alarming rates.

It is perplexing to realize that we keep having to do the same thing over and over again with the issues that our veterans encounter. To educate the public of the plight our veterans face on a daily basis, while combating the governments complete denial, as our veterans die each day.

(11) Readers Comments

  1. I heard that soldiers in Vietnam weren’t allowed to deploy more than twice. Can anybody point me in the right direction for confirmation of this?

    • You are here. I have a friend that had 5 tours in Vietnam.

    • I had an uncle who served 6 tours of duty in Viet Nam but it was all voluntary on his part. He was a career soldier. However, I seem to recall that soldiers could NOT be forced into a second deployment in Viet Nam. The issue in that war was whether soldiers should have been there at all.

  2. I work with active duty military and their families. I have conducted therapy with soldiers who were deployed 4x times and some who have been hospitalized. We are in a crisis with our military as many are at the breaking point. I am currently writing an article I hope to submit to a publisher submitting facts and first hand information of my experiences.

    Roger D. Batson
    Licensed Professional Counselor

    • You to be commended for your commitment and dedication to our soldiers and their families. Coming up on three years I have been sounding the alarm about the mental health epidemic that our modern warriors face. Since I have written this piece, our soldiers average 3 to 4 deployments.

      May you be blessed.

    • Roger,

      I am hoping to get my hands on your paper, if it is finished. Please email me at christopher.w.kibler@gmail.com. I am with a grassroots group that is working on a 3 minute video about multiple deployments. Thanks, Chris

    • My husband is showing all the signs of PTSD, hes been home from afghanistan and out of the military for about a year and did 2 deployments. Were still “Pending” with his claim for the VA, but its been over a year. Were being told that he doesnt have PTSD, just an adjustment disorder. He is afraid to sleep at night, is overly paranoid, barely eats, constantly checks the doors, windows etc. He cant be intimate. He has horrible nightmares when he does sleep. The littlest things trigger anxiety attacks. Hes afriad to go out, hes afraid to drive half the time. And the VA is doing little to nothing to ease these symptoms. Hes been on the same meds for it for close to a year, with no positive change. Weve contacted the VA multiple times, but they keep telling us were being overly dramatic. What can we do? I want my husband back!!!!

  3. Your article is an excellent article and i am recommending it be read by all my friendswho work with military keep up the good work!

  4. Greetings from a vet,

    I have 24 years of service to my country under my belt and I thought I would extend that service to those who may be having difficulty at college coping with the effects of PTSD on their ability to excel to self-satisfaction with their scholastic endeavors. I decided to do a dissertation on thiscontact me if you’d like to have an anonymous ear to vent your concerns or frustrations…thanx

    • Anyone that has “spent” 24 yrs in “the military” would name their rank and service and NEVER write “thanx”! You are a LIAR and a scumbag! You should be ashamed of yourself for any young Vet in need of help that would fall prey to whatever your scam is! disgusting!!

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