"This type of focus was not in existence after Vietnam," said Bill Outlaw, a director of communications for the Veterans Health Administration and a Vietnam War vet. "PTSD did not even get recognized as something that was really worked on by mental health professionals until the mid to late 1980s. The fact that this kind of powerful play [is out there], I think is incredible."
According to the VA's definition, PTSD is a condition resulting from exposure to direct or indirect threat of death, serious injury or a physical threat. Symptoms include recurrent thoughts of a traumatic event, reduced involvement in work or outside interests, emotional numbing, hyper-alertness, anxiety and irritability. Between 2002 and March 2011, 177,149 veterans received a provisional diagnosis of PTSD by the VA.
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is any traumatically induced structural injury and/or physiological disruption of brain function as a result of an external force, followed by symptoms such as memory loss, reduced motor skills or change in vision. Since April 2007, more than 97,000 post-9/11 veterans have screened positive for TBI. More than 40,000 have been diagnosed with having sustained a mild TBI.
With 23,000 more service members due home from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and more due home each year until 2014, these numbers may only increase.
"We're just at the start of this. We still have decades to go and if we don't figure out a way to deal with that, we're going to be in trouble," Vines said.
Yet at a time of Defense Department budget cuts, the costs of taking care of post-9/11 veterans will only skyrocket, according to a study published by Brown University in June.
"The history of previous wars shows that the cost of caring for war veterans rises for several decades and peaks 30 to 40 years or more after a conflict," the study states.
"This will be especially true for veterans of the current wars. Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are utilizing VA medical services and applying for disability benefits at much higher rates than in previous wars," notes the study.
"Although veterans' care comprises the fourth largest category of government spending, the magnitude of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans' costs is grossly understated in government projections. There is no provision set aside to cover these future obligations."
A federal class action settlement recently awarded lifetime health-care benefits to more than 1,000 disabled veterans discharged because of PTSD. Before now, PTSD did not qualify one for disability retirement benefits. And beginning just last month, full-time caregivers for wounded post-9/11 service members needing home care (usually family members) became eligible to receive compensation of up to $1,600 per month. The Caregivers program is estimated to cost between $140 million and $150 million this year.