The military after 9/11: how the wars affected the mental health and care of veterans

Since America was shaken by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. military has fought in the longest conflict in the nation’s history. This has left several generations of veterans suffering from PTSD and other health issues.

In previous wars, PTSD was not well understood nor were treatments so available. USC researchers say they anticipate that the military withdrawal from the nation of Afghanistan will not end the trauma and continue to look for new and better ways to help returning soldiers.

With Afghanistan, “we had never had anything like this happen,” says Carl Castro of USC’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work of the 20-year war. “There were fathers and sons, mothers and daughters who served in the same war. It is multigenerational.

“It connects again to what many also experienced in Vietnam. Our nation is not used to losing the war, and this will mean a hard loss in many areas, in many worlds.

Experts are still trying to help veterans affected by the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Multiple deployments and mental health of veterans

According to a Pew Research Center survey in the spring of 2019, 75% of veterans after 9/11 (about 800,000) were deployed at least once, significantly more than in previous years, when 58% were deployed. they deployed or in combat. Deployment increases the likelihood that veterans will experience trauma and wear visible and invisible scars, both physical and mental.

About 36% of the 1,284 veterans who participated in this survey said they believed they were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; 6 out of 10 said they saw someone dead, either someone in their unit or in an allied unit.

Castro runs the school’s Social Work Veterans and Military Families Innovation and Research Center, which aims to strengthen the support network for veterans and their families. He predicts that veterans returning from Afghanistan will suffer a lot of confusing emotions.

Some will feel a sense of futility wondering, “What was all this for?”

Carl Castro

“It goes from the anger, the frustration, the pain, and in a way, the happiness that we’re out of,” he said. “Some will feel a sense of futility, wondering,‘ What was all this for? Winning the battle does not always mean winning the war. “

USC researchers want to help. In fact, some have created new tools to attract veterans and help them process the trauma they will likely have for a lifetime.

Reports from the Congressional Budget Office indicate that the Veterans Health Administration spends about $ 8,300 per veteran each year for a five-year treatment plan. The cost is higher for veterans who have a combination of traumatic brain injury and PTSD: $ 13,800. That adds up to more than $ 2 billion a year spent on veterans with PTSD.

Veterans’ mental health and virtual reality projects

Albert “Skip” Rizzo is a psychiatrist and directs medical virtual reality projects at the USC Institute of Creative Technologies at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Virtual reality tools designed by him and his team include games that are tools for clinical assessment, treatment rehabilitation (how to help seniors improve their range of motion), and endurance.

For veterans, he and his colleagues have developed SimCoach, a virtual reality advisor that can help assess the severity of a veteran’s trauma and depression so that health professionals can determine the best therapy plan and treatment.

Research indicates that veterans are more honest with a virtual agent than with a human advisor.

Now the military is actively promoting the idea that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Albert “Skip” Rizzo

Rizzo and his team also developed Bravemind, a virtual reality simulation that allows clinicians and researchers to safely walk a veteran through simulations of traumatic events that can give health professionals a new vision and opportunity to provide a deeper therapy.

These therapies are now used in part because cultural and social attitudes in the military have changed. Service members are now more likely to seek and accept mental health care.

“The military is now actively promoting the idea that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness,” Rizzo said. “Thus, as we have seen throughout history, the innovations that emerge in military health care, driven by the urgency of war, tend to have a lasting influence on civilian health care long after the last one is fired. removed”.

Virtual reality is just one of the many technologies that engineers and scientists are pursuing; they also make new devices.

Who drives increased investment in veterans ’mental health?

This increase in innovation is due to increased investment from a key source: the government, including the military itself.

“One of the results that is changing the clinical games of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is derived from the army’s support for research and development to advance clinical systems that take advantage of new technologies,” Rizzo said. “These include telerobotic surgical tools, computerized prosthetic limbs with advanced sensors that improve usability and comfort and the use of virtual reality in the treatment of PTSD. Veterans with brain and body injuries can participate in game-based physical and occupational therapies. “

Recently, the Pentagon announced plans to provide mental health support to the traumatized military on leaving Afghanistan.

The withdrawal of troops is an opportunity for the country’s experts to provide assistance, according to Castro.

“Our veterans still need us,” Castro says. “Many still need assistance and services. The fact that the war is over does not mean that it is over. Some veterans will continue to fight for decades.

More stories about: Mental health, military, terrorism, veterans

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