By: Mary-Ann Maloney
With as many as 40 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans expected to return home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the Veteran's Administration is scrambling to be able to meet the needs. At John J. Pershing Veterans Hospital in Poplar Bluff, they've increased their mental health staff by 200 percent over the last 18 months and they're still hiring.
From September of 2005 to June of 2006, reported cases of PTSD involving Iraq veterans was up 87 percent. This is a trend that many medical experts expect to continue. Often the symptoms of PTSD don't suffer until months after a soldier or Marine returns home.
Mary Lee Jennings, a clinical psychologist at John J. Pershing, admits they're backlogged right now. She says that for whatever reasons, this war is triggering PTSD in some World War II and Vietnam veterans. These men are accessing the VA health system for the first time to help deal with anger, depression and other symptoms of PTSD.
He admits that soldiers and Marines sometimes consider suicide as a means of ending the mental anguish. In fact, Heather Hudlow, the suicide prevention coordinator at John J. Pershing, points out that every day within the VA system, four to five people kill themselves. Not all of these people served in Iraq or Afghanistan, but the situation is so alarming, that Hudlow's position is a new one at the Poplar Bluff hospital. Veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to commit suicide. Often times they turn to alcohol or prescription drugs to escape the pain.