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Problems Soldiers Face After Returning From Iraq

Considered as the worst terrorist attack in the United States, the destruction of the World Trade Center and the damage in Pentagon that killed thousands of civilians on September 11, 2001 resulted in the “war against terrorism” that was spearheaded by the Bush administration. Thousands of soldiers were deployed in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, in order to carry out the task of protecting the country and avoiding the same event from happening again.

Day after day, since the advent of this so-called “war on terrorism,” many soldiers have endured the pain of the physical wounds they incurred from fighting. However, the heavy emotional and psychological residue from violence exposure is perhaps the most devastating impacts of war against terrorism, a very high price which the soldiers have to pay after they returned from the war zone, specifically those that came from Iraq.

Army studies have shown that approximately 20 to 25 percent of soldiers who have fought in Iraq displayed symptoms of mental health problems that include depression and substance abuse (Zwerdling). Studies published by professionals also indicate that there is a dramatic increase in the number of returning soldiers from the Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)— a kind of anxiety disorder that develops among survivors of any kind of terrifying ordeal that posits a threat of serious bodily harm.

Likewise, a great deal of information from both the media and mental health practitioners suggests that there is a considerable increase in suicide rates among the soldiers and veterans who were posted in Iraq during the height of war. These findings clearly manifest that not only does the war on Iraq take its toll physically; rather, more importantly, it shows that soldiers are at high risk of developing psychological disorders (Sundararaman, Panangala, and Lister). After the invasion of Iraq, surveys on mental health were conducted by the army each year since the war’s inception in 2003.

The said surveys indicate that US soldiers are experiencing common yet terrifying mismatch during combats; nearly two-thirds of the fighters in 2006 disclosed that they knew someone being killed or wounded, while fewer than 15 percent had actually killed an enemy. Such imbalance between seeing the price of war up-close and not being able to do something about it is said to contribute to the soldiers’ feelings of “intense fear, helplessness and horror” which, in a greater sense, become the roots of mental distress (Thompson).

A survey from Pentagon also reports that while 70% of the soldiers would be able to return to normalcy, about 20% are more likely to be afflicted with temporary issues of stress injuries, and 10% will suffer from stress illnesses. According to the findings, such mental health problems begin with mild anxiety, difficulty in sleeping, irritability, and the feelings of pessimism and apathy. As the condition worsens, the negative feelings and symptoms that soldiers experience can last longer and can also go together with rage, panic, uncontrolled shaking, as well as temporary paralysis (Thompson).

Likewise, some veterans may even be bothered by unwanted memories from the war through flashbacks and nightmares. Others are emotionally numb and at times engage in self-blame because they think that their failure to do something during the combat cost the life of a comrade. In other cases, the veterans are unable to let their defenses down even if the threat of attack has already passed. They live in a continuous state of alertness (Wasmer-Andrews). As the said symptoms continue at home, it serves as a catalyst for broken marriages, psychiatric breakdowns, and suicides (Thompson).

These aforementioned symptoms are manifestations of PTSD. A study published by The New England Journal of Medicine indicates that about one in every six soldiers who are returning home from Iraq shows signs of PTSD. Almost 17 percent of those who were stationed in Iraq were reportedly showing symptoms that include major depression and severe anxiety, which is much higher compared to the 11% statistics of those who were deployed in Afghanistan. Just like depressive symptoms, PTSD often does not manifest themselves until the soldiers returned from their deployment.

Thus, the said statistics only proves that there is a unique pressure imposed among the soldiers in Iraq, and that they have more contacts with adversaries and are more exposed to attacks, making them vulnerable to PTSD later on (O’Connor). Suicide has also been observed as one of the major problems being faced by veterans from Iraq. In a recent report in Congressional Research Service, it was stated that there is an absence of national surveillance for veterans who displayed suicidal tendencies. As a result, there are limited findings available on the number of suicides done after deployment (Sundararaman et al.

). However, figures from a 2008 report show that 138 suicides have been confirmed in the army alone (Associated Press [AP]). Although the number of veterans from Iraq who attempted to commit suicide may not be stated from the given statistics, the said number is already a clear indication of the toll of the war in Iraq among the soldiers. Their frequent exposure to violence is a major risk factor that makes them vulnerable to mental illnesses, and once this mental illnesses are left unattended, the soldiers always find the easy way out which is suicide.

From the information presented above, it can be concluded that other than physical wounds acquired in the battlefield, emotional and psychological issues ranging from mild anxiety to PTSD are the most common problems faced by soldiers after they returned from their deployment in Iraq. These psychological conditions manifest themselves even after the threat of violence brought about by war has already passed. Because these psychological problems often persist, they continue to interfere with the soldiers’ work and life at home.

More importantly, one of the most devastating problems encountered by Iraqi war veterans is the risk of suicide, which is often attributed for the psychological issues that they are experiencing. Because the stigma of seeking medical attention prevents many soldiers from doing so, such problems among the combatants are more likely to increase and become prevalent. In this regard, there should be stronger campaigns in order to prevent depression, PTSD, suicide, and the likes. Likewise, soldiers should be educated that seeking mental health help is not a sign of weakness.

By accepting medical help, their psychological conditions may be properly addressed and their psychological well-being may be restored. Works Cited Associated Press. “Army reports new ‘disturbing’ suicide toll. ” MSNBC. 5 Mar. 2009. 21 Apr. 2009 < http://www. msnbc. msn. com/id/29533411/>. O’Connor, Anahad. “1 in 6 veterans is found to suffer stress-related disorder. ” The New York Times. 1 Jul. 2004. 21 Apr. 2009 <http://www. nytimes. com/2004/07/01/national/01MENT. html>. Sundararaman, Ramya, Sidath Panangala and Sarah Lister. CRS Report For Congress: SuicidePrevention Among Veterans. Washington DC: Congressional Research Service, 2008.

Thompson, Mark. “America’s Medicated Army. ” Time. 5 June 2008. 21 Apr. 2009 <http://www. time. com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1811858-1,00. html>. Wasmer-Andrews, Linda. “Aftershocks of War: Soldiers Returning from Iraq are Likely to Need HR’s Help in Coping with Delayed Emotional Trauma. HR Magazine. April 2004. 21 Apr. 2009 http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m3495/is_4_49/ai_n6109965/? tag=content;col1. Zwerdling, Daniel. “Soldiers Say Army Ignores, Punishes Mental Anguish. ” National Public Radio (NPR). 2009. 21 Apr. 2009 <http://www. npr. org/templates/story/story. php? storyId=6576505>.

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