Combat-related mental illness has been and still is a critical issue for American war veterans. Veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam are still dealing with the aftermath of their combat duty; some seeking treatment for mental illness years after returning from active duty, and some never seeking treatment at all. To date, over 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, at least one in three Iraq veterans and one in nine Afghanistan veterans will face a mental health issue like depression, anxiety, or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Multiple tours and inadequate rest between deployments have increased the stress of combat. PTSD rates for Iraq veterans are already higher than the rates recorded among veterans of Vietnam. The systems in place to address this issue are inadequate and fail our returning vets.

The admission of mental illness can be devastating for troops. According to SAMHSA, "the impact of military reality on individual mental health is complicated further by the pronounced stigma associated with mental illness within military communities. Service members frequently cite fear of personal embarrassment, fear of disappointing comrades, fear of losing the opportunity for career advancement, and fear of dishonorable discharge as motivations to hide the symptoms of mental illness from colleagues, friends and family. This silence and the attitudes and perceptions perpetuating it pose a significant challenge to those charged with making sure that the United States' fighting force is improving itself and taking care of its own members."

Left untreated, post traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related mental illnesses can and does destroy the lives of vets and their families. According to the June 17, 2007 CNN piece entitled, "Pentagon: Military's mental health care needs help" a recently released Pentagon report says "the military's mental health services need some serious therapy." According to An Achievable Vision, a report from the Pentagon's Task Force on Mental Health, "The military health system lacks the fiscal resources and the fully trained personnel to fulfill its mission to support psychological health in peacetime or fulfill the enhanced requirements imposed during times of conflict."

The issue of mental illness in the military has clearly reached a critical juncture. Troops presently serving in Iraq are suffering from combat related mental illness at a staggering rate, and the projected numbers foretell a mental health care crisis for veterans. Yet, because of the strong mental health stigma and the related career consequences that exist in the military, there continues to be an unspoken rule to conceal mental illness and "buck-up." The result of this kind of repression and denial is leading to tragic results for returning troops, manifesting in shattered lives and in too many instances, suicide. These brave Americans have laid their lives on the line in service to their country. Until stigma is addressed and the reality of the mental health needs of military veterans is fully recognized, our returning troops and veterans from wars past will continue to suffer - needlessly. The Council has launched a Veterans mental health awareness campaign in conjunction with the N.J. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and UMDNJ entitled "Veterans - Life Doesn't Have to Be a Battlefield - Don't Let Stigma Stand in Your Way".

Related Resources

New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs
Military Benefits Update
Government Resources - SAMHSA
Make the Connection
NJ Mental Health Cares - NJ Mental Health Information and Referrals
National Veterans Foundation
The Military Family Network
Stars and Stripes - Removing Stigma