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Military in Oklahoma, nationwide still struggling with PTSD rates, treatment

BY BRYAN DEAN Published: November 22, 2012

— If the averages apply, at least 500 Oklahoma National Guard soldiers who returned earlier this year from Afghanistan will show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Identifying and treating those soldiers is one of the great challenges for the modern military, and both military and mental health professionals said they still aren't very good at it.

Officials with the U.S. Defense Department, Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health and other agencies gathered last week for a workshop on post-traumatic stress.

Despite monumental efforts by the military to grapple with PTSD and suicide, the numbers aren't encouraging.

Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director of force health protection and readiness programs at the U.S. Department of Defense, said about 5 percent of those in the military show signs of post-traumatic stress when they are screened before going on deployments.

That number goes up to 20 percent among those who have had combat experience.

Only one in four of those showing signs of post-traumatic stress have sought any sort of treatment.

“If 75 percent of the people who need care aren't getting it, we aren't doing our job right,” Kilpatrick said.

In greater numbers?

Medical professionals suspect the number of military members with post-traumatic stress is even higher.

James Mundt, a senior scientist at the Center for Psychological Research, Training and Consultation, said surveys with anonymous reporting show rates of post-traumatic stress disorder two to four times higher than the military's screening.

Symptoms are greater among the National Guard and Reserves.

Diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder is difficult, said Susan Borja, an administrator in the National Institute of Mental Health's traumatic stress research program.

Post-traumatic stress symptoms can look like depression or anxiety, both common mental health problems. Those with traumatic brain injuries have similar symptoms, and about half of those with PTSD have an alcohol abuse problem.

“We're not very good at parsing out the disorders,” Borja said.

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