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Before the Witness Justice Congressional Briefing Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C.

September 13, 2006

No soldier goes to war and comes back unchanged.

There 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.

No one 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.

Female 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 return.

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