Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as well as other illnesses and injuries are common amongst returned veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Together, these illnesses often contribute to substance abuse, addiction, overdoses, homelessness and suicide.
About 30% of veterans report symptoms of PTSD, TBI and depression. Veterans also do not qualify for substance abuse disability benefits unless they have been diagnosed with PTSD. Despite this, 46% of federally incarcerated veterans are for drug law violations.
Veteran Affairs in auditing 20 rehabilitation centers found that a majority did not have adequate screening policies.
A 2004 report states there are approximately 140,000 veterans in US federal and state prisons. The Veteran Affairs department also estimates 670,000 are homeless.
Many veterans however, found incentives to downplay psychological damage and distress in order to return home sooner, minimize social concern and avoid doing damage to their military careers. Because of this, many will not be diagnosed with PTSD, the only way in which they will receive aid.
Veterans Affairs suggest that for survivors of trauma, early intervention can be significantly beneficial:
“In civilian populations, several randomized controlled trials have demonstrated that brief (i.e., 4-5 session) individually-administered cognitive-behavioral treatment, delivered around two weeks after a trauma, can prevent PTSD in some survivors of motor vehicle accidents, industrial accidents, and assault (18,19) who meet criteria for Acute Stress Disorder and are therefore at risk for development of PTSD.”
In treatment of drug addiction, however, Veterans Affairs are rarely trained or encouraged, or educated on administrating methadone or bunprenorphine. Incarcerated veterans do not receive medicated treatment for addiction.
Many will also turn to violent crime, feeling unable to reintegrate in civil society. Fred Gusman, director for The Pathway Home Program says:
“Your body gets tweaked in a way where you learn to be in survivor mode, and it’s not a switch that you can just turn off when you get home. This lack of ability to slowly re-enter into society makes them vulnerable to self-medicating with alcohol and drugs, which means you’re then more likely to get into trouble by creating one problem on top of another problem.”
Social services need to be tweaked to accommodate veterans.
On May 6th, 2012, Georgia opened Muscogee County jail, the first jail opened exclusively to US military veterans. The jail hopes to meet the specific psychological and treatment needs of veterans.