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Before the Subcommittee on Health Committee on Veterans Affairs U. S. House of Representatives Regarding Traumatic Brain Injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Diagnosis, Treatment, & Compensation

September 28, 2006

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Michaud, and distinguished Members of this Subcommittee, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) thanks you for the opportunity to present our views on the current state of the disability compensation claims process as accorded to our nation’s veterans suffering from mental illnesses and/or traumatic brain injuries as a result of their military service.

First, Vietnam Veterans of America thanks this Committee for your concern about the mental health care of our troops and veterans, and your leadership in holding this hearing today. However, given the nature of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fact that many service members are serving multiple combat tours, VVA is again compelled to repeat its message that no one really knows how many of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been or will be affected by their wartime experiences. Despite the much-touted early intervention by psychological personnel, no one really knows how serious their emotional and mental problems will become, nor how chronic both the neuro-psychiatric wounds (e.g., PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI) and the resulting impact that these wounds will have on their physiological health, risk of suicide risk, and their general psycho-social readjustment to life away from the battle zone.

As we have stated before in Congressional testimony, Vietnam Veterans of America 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 soldiers 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 infantry personnel.

This has particularly important implications for our female soldiers, who now constitute about 16 percent of our fighting force. Returning female OIF and OEF troops face ailments and traumas of other sorts. For example, studies conducted at the Durham, North Carolina Comprehensive Women’s Health Center by VA researchers have demonstrated higher rates of suicidal tendencies among women veterans suffering depression with co-morbid PTSD. And according to a Pentagon study released in March 2006, more female soldiers report mental health concerns than their male comrades: 24 percent compared with 19 percent. In addition, roughly 40 percent of these women war fighters 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. In addition, there are gender-related societal issues that make transitioning tough, psychologists who work with female veterans say.

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