American Troops Are Unwell

Service members suffering a mental health crisis

American Troops Are Unwell American Troops Are Unwell
American Troops Are Unwell Service members suffering a mental health crisis America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines—and their families—are unwell. More unwell than the... American Troops Are Unwell

American Troops Are Unwell

Service members suffering a mental health crisis

America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines—and their families—are unwell. More unwell than the official reporting indicates.

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that mental illness is far more common among America’s soldiers than in the general population.

Nearly a quarter of the 5,500 active-duty soldiers the authors surveyed manifested at least one mental-health dysfunction. Ten percent manifested more than one condition.

One caveat is that the number of soldiers being hospitalized for mental illness is, by one measure, declining. Last year was the first since 2008 with a decrease in hospital intakes, according to the April edition of the Pentagon’s Medical Surveillance Monthly Report.

The reasons for the decrease in hospitalizations aren’t clear. The monthly report speculates that the withdrawal from Iraq and declining numbers of U.S. troops in Afghanistan led to fewer visits to medical facilities.

It’s also possible that “concerted efforts in recent years to decrease stigmas and to remove barriers and enhance access to mental health care may have forestalled the need to hospitalize many service members because of early interventions in the outpatient setting,” the Pentagon report states.

But mental illness is still the number-one health problem in the armed forces. “Mental disorders accounted for more hospital bed days than any other … category and about 45 percent of all hospital bed days overall,” according to the medical surveillance report.

It’s also important to note that hospitalizations declined across the board, not just for mental health-related causes—and that “in 2013, mental disorders accounted for more hospitalizations of U.S. service members than any other major diagnostic category.”

The next biggest category is poisoning and general injuries. Of those, one in eight is “intentionally inflicted,” the Pentagon report states. That’s a broad category that includes suicide attempts. In other words, the number of mental-health related hospital visits is actually higher than the military’s reporting implies.

In that context, the reduced hospitalization rates are cold comfort.

The Pentagon will spend nearly $50 billion on medical care for its almost 10 million beneficiaries in 2014. Those beneficiaries aren’t just service members, but also their children and spouses. The number-one cause of hospitalization among dependents?

You guessed it. Mental health.

Military suicides are on the rise. There aren’t enough mental-health professionals to handle military demand. The Daily Beast reported earlier this week that veterans are dying while waiting for care from an inefficient and backlogged system.

After 13 years of combat, America’s service members and their families are unwell. It will take more than money to fix this. But money’s a good place to start. Fifty billion dollars just isn’t enough.