By Ming Yu Chou
As more and more information about psychological and psychiatric disabilities and injuries that soldiers face are gathered, there have been great developments in providing adequate psychological help to these warriors. Yet, recent data and researches show that despite these improvements, more professional psychiatric help are needed in various U.S. military and veterans’ institutions to provide proper care to all who have served this nation.
The health systems of the U.S. military and the Veterans Affairs acknowledge the lack of professional psychiatrists at hand for the treatment of soldiers. According to Dr. Shnaidman, financial concerns and a depleted fund for psychiatric help which have led to low wages for military psychiatrists, have caused this distinct lack of doctors. “Why don’t they have them [psychiatrists]?” Dr. Shnaidman asked. “Obviously it’s got to be financial; they’re not paying them enough. We are paid the worst of any medical specialties, because we’re considered to be superfluous and unnecessary.”
Nicholas Smith, who works at the East Orange VA hospital in New Jersey and VA hospital in Philadelphia as a supplier of registered nurses (RN), licensed practical nurses (LPN), and home health aides, points out another glaring misconception that contributes to this low number of psychiatrists for veterans: that fewer psychiatrists are needed nowadays since there are not as many battles and wars as there were in the past decade.
Yet, according to the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), since September 11, 2001, of the more than 2.6 million troops that have deployed to conflict zones in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, 65.2% of these veterans have been negatively affected by military experiences. Furthermore, the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a telephone poll among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and the results show that more than a third of those surveyed reported that their emotional health is worse than it was before their service.
The WWP also reports that, besides physical injuries from combats, more than 400,000 veterans live with mental wounds, such as post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), depressions, combat stress, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and dozens more. Furthermore, in contrast to the veterans who are fortunate enough to be diagnosed and treated, many others may be suffering from ineradicable memories of war.
Therefore, Smith urge that health systems for the US Armed Forces do realize that soldiers need more psychiatrists than ever. “Typically, they [VA Health System] are going to need more [psychiatrists] when there isn’t a war going on, because our troops are coming home,” stated Smith.“There’re folks that have suffered from PTSD and other traumas come home to no jobs, homeless, …so the need for psychiatry is actually growing now.”
Furthermore, according to Dr. Shnaidman, combat may not be the sole cause of mental and psychical injuries in veterans. “Since the military gets people exactly at the age where the worst psychiatric disorders first present. Late teens and early twenties is when true bipolar disorder and schizophrenia first present,” said Dr. Shnaidman. Therefore, she concluded that “aside from the general psychiatric disorders that you’re going to see in young people who’re away from home the first time, like depression, anxiety, eating disorder, you have to have people that are trained in PTSD, and be prepared to see 1%-3% of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia because that’s the base rate in a population,” outlining how military psychiatrists face possibly a triple challenge in helping veterans overcome their emotional problems.
Yet, one of the biggest shortcomings of the current health services for the US Armed Forces is that these services fail to follow through on some patients’ needs for continuous and extensive psychiatric treatments. For short-term care, a large majority of the veterans are actually very content with the physical and mental diagnostic tests that they have received. Yet, for veterans who need long-term care and treatment, this sense of contentment drops precipitously; it is far too easy for these veterans to slip through the cracks and never attain the psychiatric help they so desperately need.
To make meaningful improvements in medical services for veterans and in veterans’ health, the US government must inspect the myriad of problems which exists in its systems. Furthermore, to fully help our veterans overcome their physical and emotional wounds, those in charge must hire more psychiatrists to execute better professional mental health care, to defeat the misunderstanding that soldiers do not require help during peacetime, and to enforce long-term follow-ups for all service members.
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