Separating Symptoms from Disorder

One of the biggest challenges that the Army and the other services face is finding the right diagnosis for post-traumatic stress exhibited by service personnel, the Army’s top doctor told reporters May 27. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, Army Surgeon General, said the land service has conducted five mental health advisory team surveys on returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan so far and has determined that between 15 percent and 20 percent of all soldiers will exhibit symptoms that can be associated with post traumatic stress disorder. In 2007, 10,049 new cases were identified among soldiers following a deployment; this was up from 6,876 in 2006, he said. However, not all reports of symptoms turn into full-blown PTSD, Schoomaker pointed out. Many service personnel don’t exhibit symptoms for three-to-six months following a deployment, and in many cases, where National Guard or Reserve units are involved, a soldier seeking treatment outside the Army’s system may not turn up in statistics. Further, much of the reporting is dependent on soldiers volunteering information. The bottom line, he said, is that the Army does not definitively know how many soldiers are suffering from PTSD. “I don’t think right now we have good numbers,” Schoomaker said. However, proactive screening has come a long way in both Iraq and Afghanistan and new treatments for stress, such as the use of alternative medicine like acupuncture and even yoga therapy has demonstrated good results.