Army Times, by Rick Maze, October 26, 2007 Two senators pushing for improvements in veterans’ mental health services want a full accounting from the Pentagon of service members suffering psychological injuries in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sens. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., want to know the total number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems found in U.S. troops since October 2001.

In an Oct. 23 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates., Bond and Obama ask for the total number of PTSD cases among active-duty service members and the total number of other reported psychological injuries. In seeking details, the senators want to know not only how many people have been diagnosed with mental problems, but also whether the diagnoses were made while the members were deployed or after they returned.

Bond and Obama also want details on what kind of counseling is available, especially mental health counseling while still in the combat zone, and how much money the services are spending on mental health care.

All those issues will help determine how to best allocate money for diagnosis and treatment of PTSD and other mental health issues, according to congressional aides who have been working on the issue.

The letter asks the Defense Department to supply the report by Nov. 17, which might be in time to influence the 2008 defense budget that is still pending before Congress.

Obama, one of the Democrats running for the 2008 presidential nomination, is a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Bond is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee that allocated funding to federal programs and is cochairman of the Senate National Guard Caucus.

A May 2007 report from the Defense Department said about 60,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans having been diagnosed with mental health issues, roughly 4 percent of the service members who deployed to one of the combat zones. About 34,000 had PTSD symptoms and 26,000 had traumatic brain injuries, according to the data supplies to the Congressional Research Service by Pentagon health affairs officials.

The report probably understates the numbers, as it covers only diagnoses from fiscal 2003 through May 2007, and cannot account for service members who have not sought treatment.

Amy Belasco, a defense policy and budget specialist for the Congressional Research Service, said that spending on military mental health programs has increased from $18 million in 2003 to $90 million last year, and that Congress included $900 million for mental health programs in the 2007 wartime supplemental spending bill – $600 million for treatment and $300 million for research.

The VA’s top doctor, Michael Kussman, told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Oct. 17 that about 40 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who have sought treatment from VA facilities have “received at least a preliminary diagnosis of a mental health condition and 18 percent have received a preliminary diagnosis for PTSD.”

Kussman said Iraq and Afghanistan veterans make up about 10 percent of all veterans diagnosed with mental health issues.

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