WASHINGTON - Roughly one in five U.S. troops is suffering from major depression or post-traumatic stress from serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an equal number have suffered brain injuries, a new study estimates.
Only about half of them have sought treatment, says the study released Thursday by the Rand Corp.
A recently completed survey showed 18.5 percent — or 300,000 people — said they have symptoms of depression or PTSD, the researchers said. Nineteen percent — or 320,000 — suffered head injuries ranging from mild concussions to penetrating head wounds.
"There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Terri Tanielian, the project's co-leader and a researcher at the nonprofit Rand.
"Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation," she said in a statement.
The 500-page study is the first large-scale, private assessment of its kind — including a survey of 1,965 service members across the country, from all branches of the armed forces and including those still in the military as well veterans who have left the services.
Its results appear consistent with a number of mental health reports from within the government, though the Defense Department has not released the number of people it has diagnosed or who are being treated for mental problems.
The Department of Veterans Affairs said this month that its records show about 120,000 who served in the two wars and are no longer in the military have been diagnosed with mental health problems. Of those, approximately 60,000 are suffering from PTSD, the VA said.
Veterans Affairs is responsible for care of service members after they have left the service, while the Defense Department covers active duty and reservist needs.
The lack of numbers from the Pentagon was one motivation for the Rand study, Tanielian said in an interview.
The most prominent and detailed military study on mental health on the war that is released regularly to the public is the Army's survey of soldiers at the battlefield. Officials said last month that it's most recent one, done last fall, found 18.2 percent of soldiers suffered a mental health problem such as depression, anxiety or acute stress in 2007 compared with 20.5 percent the previous year.
Other studies have variously estimated that 10 percent to 20 percent had symptoms of mental health problems
The Rand survey done from August through January, put the percentage of PTSD and depression at 18.5 percent and then calculated about 300,000 were suffering those problems at that time because Pentagon data shows over 1.6 million military personnel have deployed to the conflicts since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001.
Col. Loree Sutton, who heads a new Pentagon center on brain injury, welcomed the Rand study, saying it will add to the work defense officials are doing. That includes improving and expanding training, research and mental health staff.
She said officials have been working to add thousands more mental health professionals to help the uniformed psychiatrists, psychologists and others struggling to meet the wartime demands of troops and their families. Across the services, officials are trying to hire over 1,000 additional staff, companies providing health care by contract to the Pentagon have added over 3,000 in the last year and the U.S. Public Health Service has provided some 200, she said. The veterans department also has added some 3,800 professionals in the last couple of years, officials there said.
Rand researchers also found:
_About 7 percent reported both a probable brain injury and current PTSD or major depression.
_Only 43 percent reported ever being evaluated by a physician for their head injuries.
_Only 53 percent of service members with PTSD or depression sought help over the past year.
_They gave various reasons for not getting help, including that they worried about the side effects of medication; believe family and friends could help them with the problem, or that they feared seeking care might damage their careers.
_Rates of PTSD and major depression were highest among women and reservists.
The report is titled "Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery." It was sponsored by a grant from the California Community Foundation and done by 25 researchers from Rand Health and the Rand National Security Research Division, which also has done does work under contracts with the Pentagon and other defense agencies as well as allied foreign governments and foundations.