No soldier goes to war and
comes back unchanged.
is no longer any doubt that the trauma of war inflicts mental health
injuries that are every bit as real as the physical wounds inflicted by
bullets and bombs. If left untreated, psychological traumas such as Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can affect combat veterans to the point
that, over time, even their daily functions become seriously impaired.
This places them at higher risk for self-medication and abuse with alcohol
and drugs, domestic violence, unemployment and underemployment,
homelessness, incarceration, suicide, and even medical co-morbidities such
as cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
really knows how many of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been or
will be adversely affected by their wartime experiences. And despite some
early interventions by military psychological personnel, no one really knows
how serious their emotional and mental problems will become, nor how chronic
will be both the neuro-psychiatric wounds and their impact on physical
health. Given the nature of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the
fact that many service members are serving multiple combat tours, Vietnam
Veterans of America (VVA) has no reason to believe that the rate of PTSD for
veterans of OEF and OIF will be any less than that found for Vietnam
veterans. What is beyond argument is that the more combat exposure a
soldier sees, the greater the odds that he, and increasingly she, will
suffer mental and emotional stress that can become debilitating. And in
wars without fronts, ‘combat support troops’ are just as likely to be
affected by the same traumas as infantrymen.
veterans returning from war face ailments and traumas of other sorts: More
than 400 military women working in Iraq, Afghanistan and the SW Asia region
have reported they were victims of sexual assault from 2003 through May,
according to the U.S. Department of Defense. More female soldiers report
mental health concerns than their male comrades: 24 percent compared with 19
percent, according to a Pentagon study released in March. Roughly 40
percent have musculoskeletal problems that doctors say likely are linked to
lugging too-heavy and ill-fitted equipment. A considerable number - 28
percent - return with genital and urinary system infections. There are
gender-related societal issues that make transitioning tough, psychologists
who work with female veterans say. Women are more likely to worry about
body image issues, especially if they have visible scars, and their
traditional roles as caregivers in civilian life can set them back when they
Currently there is debate
about the exact influence of combat-related trauma on suicide risk. For
those veterans who have PTSD as a result of combat trauma, however, it
appears that the highest relative suicide risk is observed in veterans who
were wounded multiple times and/or hospitalized for a wound7.
This suggests that the intensity of the combat trauma, and the number of
times it occurred, may influence suicide risk in veterans with PTSD. Other
research on veterans with combat-related PTSD suggests that the most
significant predictor of both suicide attempts and preoccupation with
suicide is combat-related guilt8.
Many veterans experience highly intrusive thoughts and extreme guilt about
acts committed during times of war. These thoughts can often overpower the
emotional coping capacities of veterans.
combat began in Afghanistan in October 2001, nearly 20,000 American military
personnel have been wounded in action, according to the Defense Department.
Many of these injuries have been life-threatening, requiring multiple
surgeries, extensive rehabilitation and ongoing care. But the immediate
financial and logistical challenges of coping with the thousands of severely
wounded are just two of the problems military and civilian authorities
face. Down the road, these active-duty, reservist and Guard military
personnel will need employment, housing as well as both mental and physical
health-care assistance for years to come. Accordingly, with the conflicts
in Afghanistan and Iraq continuing with no end in sight, it is likely that
more will be killed or wounded in action. Therefore VVA believes the
veterans of America’s current wars in SW Asia must be guaranteed the
following through Congressional leadership and oversight:
Resources for and access to diagnoses and effective treatment of complex
physical wounds, including those for polytrauma injuries
Resources for and access to accurate diagnoses and evidence-based
effective treatment and recovery services from traumatic psychological
injuries, including PTSD, MST and TBI (i.e., Traumatic Brain Injury)
Effective and accountable delivery of integrated benefits, services and
programs at both federal and state levels
Development and effective, accountable delivery of educational programs
and support services for veterans’ families
There are numerous other
points that I could make today, but I will close for now. Thank you for
your kind attention. Upon conclusion of today’s program I will be pleased
to answer any questions you may have.
VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
September 13, 2006
The national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a non-profit
veterans membership organization registered as a 501(c)(19) with the
Internal Revenue Service. VVA is also appropriately registered with the
Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives in
compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.
VVA is not currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract, other than
the routine allocation of office space and associated resources in VA
Regional Offices for outreach and direct services through its Veterans
Benefits Program (Service Representatives). This is also true of the
previous two fiscal years.
For Further Information, Contact:
Director of Government Relations
Vietnam Veterans of America.
(301) 585-4000, extension 127
Dr. Thomas J. Berger
Berger is a Life Member of Vietnam Veterans of America and currently serves
as national chair of VVA’s PTSD and Substance Abuse Committee. As such, he
is a member of the Veterans’ Healthcare Administration (VHA) Consumer
Liaison Council and the Mental Health Quality Enhancement Research
Initiative for the Committee on Care of Veterans with Serious Mental
Illness. In addition, Dr. Berger holds the distinction of being the first
representative of a national veterans’ service organization to hold
membership on the Executive Committee of the Veterans’ Administration
Substance Use Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative. He is also
a member of VVA’s national Health Care, Government Affairs, Women Veterans,
and Project 112/SHAD committees. At the local level he serves as Secretary
of the Missouri Vietnam Veterans Foundation and as both Board President and
Secretary for Welcome Home, Inc., a non-profit domiciliary for veterans
suffering from PTSD and substance abuse problems.
Upon completion of his military service as a Navy corpsman with the 3rd
Marine Division in Vietnam and then subsequently after earning his doctoral
degree, he has held faculty and administrative appointments at the
University of Kansas in Lawrence, the State University System of Florida in
Tallahassee and the University of Missouri-Columbia, as well as program
administrator positions with the Illinois Easter Seal Society and United
Cerebral Palsy of Northwest Missouri. His professional publications include
books and research articles in the biological sciences, wildlife regulatory
law, adolescent risk behaviors, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Berger now devotes his efforts full-time to veterans’ advocacy at the
local, state and national levels on behalf of Vietnam Veterans of America.
resides in Columbia, Missouri and his hobbies are cycling, music, cooking,