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1 in 4 Iraq vets ailing on return
More than one in four U.S. troops have come home from the Iraq war with health problems that require medical or mental health treatment, according to the Pentagon's first detailed screening of servicemembers leaving a war zone. (Related: Troops screened as never before)

Almost 1,700 servicemembers returning from the war this year said they harbored thoughts of hurting themselves or that they would be better off dead. More than 250 said they had such thoughts "a lot." Nearly 20,000 reported nightmares or unwanted war recollections; more than 3,700 said they had concerns that they might "hurt or lose control" with someone else.

These survey results, which have not been publicly released, were provided to USA TODAY by the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine. They offer a window on the war and how the ongoing insurgency has added to the strain on troops.

Overall, since the war began, about 28% of Iraq veterans — about 50,000 servicemembers this year alone — returned with problems ranging from lingering battle wounds to toothaches, from suicidal thoughts to strained marriages. The figure dwarfs the Pentagon's official Iraq casualty count: 1,971 U.S. troops dead and 15,220 wounded as of Tuesday.

A greater percentage of soldiers and Marines surveyed in 2004-05 said they felt in "great danger" of being killed than said so in 2003, after a more conventional phase of fighting. Twice as many surveyed in 2004-05 had fired a weapon in combat.

  IMPACT OF WAR

"The (wartime) deployments do take a toll," says Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman. "We send them to austere locations, places that are extremely hot, extremely cold, very wet, very dry ... where they may also encounter an armed enemy."

The Pentagon's goal is to identify all troops in need of care in part by screening every servicemember on a wide range of issues before and after overseas duty.

Begun in 1997 and expanded in 2003, it is the most detailed health assessment of deployed troops ever. It came in response to ailments that surfaced after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Jim Benson, a spokesman at the Department of Veterans Affairs, says comparable data from previous wars don't exist.

In October 2004, a federal panel of medical experts that studied illnesses of Gulf War veterans estimated that one in seven suffer war-related health problems.

Benson said the percentage of troops back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with health issues is close to the portion of former servicemembers coming to the VA for mental health or medical care. He says 101,000 of the 431,000 war vets who have separated from the military, or about 23%, have sought help.

Contributing: Paul Overberg

 
 
 
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