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Vet Groups Fault Post-Combat Care
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Vet Groups Fault Post-Combat Care

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Vet Groups Fault Post-Combat Care

Vet Groups Fault Post-Combat Care
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As troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans' groups have charged they aren't getting the care they need for health problems that develop in wartime —especially problems with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues. Now the Pentagon's added a program to catch problems early.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

As troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans' groups have charged they aren't getting the care they need for health problems that develop in wartime, especially post traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues. The Pentagon has added a program to help catch problems early.

NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports.

JOSEPH SHAPRIO reporting:

On the way home from Iraq, every man and woman fills out a four-page questionnaire. It asks were you wounded? Do you have muscle aches or pain? Do you think you were exposed to radiation or pesticides? Are you feeling down or depressed?

But there was criticism that the survey didn't catch many problems, particularly mental health problems that don't show up in those first few days back in the U.S. ..TEXT: Dr. Michael Kilpatrick runs a Pentagon office in charge of protecting the health of troops.

Doctor MICHAEL KILPATRICK (Deputy Director, Deployment Health Support Directorate): I think coming home, there's that rush of enthusiasm. I'm home, I've survived the war. I'm ready to get on with my life. What we are finding is, it is harder than you think and some people are having some issues.

SHAPRIO: Late last year the Pentagon started taking a second survey of returning troops. Doctors and other medical personnel do this check-up three to six months after troops come home.

Kilpatrick shared the first results with NPR. They show what many had suspected. The first time troops are asked, about 25 percent say they've got a health problem. But three to six months later, it's twice as many.

Dr. KILPATRICK: Our early programs have been done in units that have had pretty traumatic exposures while they were deployed -- either high mortality rate in the group or a lot of firefights. And we are finding that about 50 percent of people are saying I've got some medical issues I'd like to have get seen. Fifty percent.

SHAPRIO: On both surveys about two-thirds say they're concerned about their physical health and about a third say they're worried about their mental health. But on the second survey more people admit to having nightmares, feeling numb or depressed. ..TEXT: Kilpatrick says getting help right away can minimize mental health problems.

Dr. KILPATRICK: Thirty to 40 percent of those folks are saying I've got some mental health issues that I'd like to get checked out. They're bothering me; they're getting in the way of performing my normal lifestyle. We are finding that this early intervention can help these people move past those issues and return to a very normal, productive life.

SHAPRIO: Steve Robinson wonders whether troops are getting the counseling that can make a difference. He runs the National Gulf War Resource Center, a veterans' groupthat pushed for the new survey.

Mr. STEVE ROBINSON (National Gulf War Resource Center): My question is once they have taken that after look, how many of them that indicate they need help are getting help? We are still getting comments from people in the field that say I had to wait three months, I had to wait six months before I could get into a counseling session.

SHAPRIO: Robinson says problems can show up many months or even years later. He says veterans have been talking recently about the suicide of the solider who returned home to Alabama two years ago.

Robinson says Douglas Barber was being treated for post traumatic stress disorder, a psychiatric condition that can result from being exposed to danger. He says Barber had learned just recently that he'd been approved for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Mr. ROBINSON: I don't know a single veteran that would take a dollar from this government for PTSD that wouldn't give that dollar back to not have PTSD and be able to function normally in society.

What they want is face-to-face clinical care, readjustment counseling, job placement, help with alcohol and drug abuse. They want the government to wrap its arms around them and thank them for what they did, not shove a piece of paper at them and say tell me if you're sick. They want proactive care, not reactive care. ..TEXT: SHAPIRO: The military says these surveys are a good start to find problems early and prevent them from getting worse.

Joseph Shaprio, NPR News.

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