I would expect that the military and the civilian sectors will likely encounter increased rates of the following issues among Active Duty, Reserve/NG forces and their families:
- Soldiers with increased health problems. Recent studies of veterans of Vietnam and other conflicts suggest that increased, prolonged stress has negative impact on health. Heart problems, increased vulnerability to illness, and other stress-related health issues will likely be experienced by soldiers who with the greatest reactivity to combat-related stressors. A study physical effects of stress on Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans, published in conjunction with Walter Reed Medical Research Institute, showed that OIF veterans with PTSD reported more health issues and had more sick days than veterans combat veterans without PTSD.
- Some soldiers and veterans of OIF and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) may struggle with existential issues relating to what happened to them and others during the war. "Making meaning" from war experiences can be very difficult for many veterans, and this sense of loss, grief and confusion can remain for years to decades post-conflict. This can result in soldiers becoming bitter and depressed, further straining combat forces and future effectiveness of our combat forces in the future.
- Mental health issues such as substance abuse, PTSD, depression, anxiety, and complicated grief can impact our forces in the short and long term. Stress, particularly severe, episodic and chronic stress (as encountered in Iraq), is cumulative in nature. The longer a soldier is exposed, the greater the risk that such stress will have a negative and long-lasting impact on force structure and effectiveness.
- Relationships, family life and functioning will be impacted as children go through various developmental stages without the parent present. Spouses may leave the relationship as the stress of repeated, extended deployments become overwhelming. Soldiers returning to home station, then spending long days away from family as they prep for the next deployment, puts a huge strain on relationships.
Please bear in mind that many soldiers never develop full-blown PTSD. Many that do develop PTSD recover with little or no treatment. Even those soldiers that do develop chronic PTSD respond well to treatment and community support. Eliminating the stigma of combat stress and PTSD is a huge and critical step. Educating the soldier on what combat stress/PTSD is and how to handle it (like we do with any other combat-related wound) will help before, during and after deployments. Teaching family what to expect and how to handle various symptoms presented by soldiers eliminates a great deal of confusion and hurt feelings.