A recent, likely overlooked article from US Medicine: The Voice of Federal Medicine, in September of 2005 is a good, in-depth look at one Iraq veteran's suicide and his family's interaction with veteran mental health services before, during and after. The veteran was an Army captain, married to another Army captain, with a young baby and a brand new house. The story is definitely one of not enough services available to be delivered in a timely manner, a horrible cost paid in human life, and some improvement after the fact, because of the brave, grieving wife's willingness to go forward and push for change.
The story makes the point that part of the reason the system is having a hard time responding to the current wave of returning veterans with PTSD is that their symptoms are coming up sooner and more severely than had been anticipated. Hear what Dr. Matthew Friedman, executive director of VA's National Center for PTSD in White River Junction, Vt, has to say:
"Another challenge to VA clinicians is the acuteness of symptoms among veterans with adjustment reactions or PTSD, Dr. Friedman said. During the post-Vietnam era, most veterans with PTSD were considerably older and had much more chronic PTSD before they sought or received VA treatment.
"With the improvement in VA/DoD diagnosing, an increasing number of OIF/OEF returnees are requesting care at a much earlier stage in their post-traumatic clinical course.
"What's new now is that there are families [seeking help] who have returnees that came in [from deployment] one or two days ago," Dr. Friedman said.
Importantly, there are also serious legal or insurance-related repercussions to PTSD diagnosis, or a lack thereof, which will be discussed in future posts. The military is essentially refusing to consider a veteran's PTSD-related death from suicide to be "combat related" unless he or she has been officially diagnosed with PTSD, but making a timely appointment to be seen with symptoms arising so shortly after returning from combat has kept many veterans unable to avail themselves of the services they so desperately need.