Afghanistan US Trump

In this Dec. 2, 2009 file photo, U.S. soldiers stand guard near the site where Afghans receive food donations provided by U.S. solders in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Throughout history, soldiers have often brought the trials of war back home.

"In World War I, they called it shell shock," said Byron Comeaux, the junior commander of the American Legion, Department of Louisiana. "They just change the name, and today it's post-traumatic stress disorder."

Those who served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may be at risk of that kind of psychological trauma, according to the Veterans Affairs' Office of Public Health, which conducted one of the largest scientific studies of those veterans. 

Titled "National Health Study for a New Generation of U.S. Veterans," the study looked at 60,000 veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. It found that 15.7% of soldiers deployed to those wars screened positive for PTSD, compared to 10.9% of non-deployed veterans during that same timeframe. 

Researchers scoured Department of Defense records of men and women who served in the military between October 2001 and June 2008. From those files, they randomly selected 60,000 veterans — 30,000 from each of the two wars.

What they found, said Paul Hermann, adjutant for the Disabled American Veterans, Department of Louisiana, is that "there's a lot of mental injuries and physical injuries among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan."

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Hermann's nonprofit, chartered by the federal government, helps veterans or their surviving spouses file claims with Veterans Affairs, free of charge. 

"I think we've become better at recognizing the signs of PTSD," said Joe Reagan, director of military and veterans outreach for Wreaths Across America, which pays tribute in soldier cemeteries nationwide to remind people of the sacrifices they made. 

Reagan, an Army veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division, knows from personal experience what it's like to grapple with post-traumatic stress.

"It's important to recognize that PTSD is on a spectrum," he explained. "Those on the extreme end of it are in the minority."

"The biggest threat to our veterans is the stigma we attach to mental health issues like PTSD, as it prevents us from seeking help," he said.

An extraordinary number of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans also live with disabling physical injuries, according to the Office of Public Health. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, 20,093 soldiers were wounded in action in the Afghanistan war alone.

"Veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are surviving in greater numbers than in previous conflicts, due to advances in body armor, battlefield medicine, and medical evacuation transport," according to the Veterans Affairs website. "As a result, more veterans are living with disabling injuries."


Email Ellyn Couvillion at ecouvillion@theadvocate.com.