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August 04, 2005

Our Servicemen Are Crazy, Dammit

It's deja vu all over again... the Loony Left is rehashing John Kerry's Winter Soldier mantra. War is turning our military veterans into deranged, psychotic whack-jobs:

We were crazy to go into Iraq in the first place and now Iraq is driving close to one in three of our courageous soldiers' crazy.

Thirty percent of United States troops returning home face mental health problems three to four months after their return, according to Army surgeon general Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley.

All right. Put the Koolaid down and back away slooooowly. What did General Kiley really say?

Thirty percent of U.S. troops surveyed have developed stress-related mental health problems three to four months after coming home from the Iraq war, the Army's surgeon general said Thursday.

The survey of 1,000 troops found problems including anxiety, depression, nightmares, anger and an inability to concentrate, said Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley and other military medical officials. A smaller number of troops, often with more severe symptoms, were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, a serious mental illness.

The 30 percent figure is in contrast to the 3 percent to 5 percent diagnosed with a significant mental health issues immediately after they leave the war theater, according to Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a military psychiatrist on Kiley's staff. A study of troops who were still in the combat zone in 2004 found 13 percent experienced significant mental health problems.

Let's break this down:

1000 troops

30% (300) had "anxiety, depression, nightmares, anger and an inability to concentrate" immediately after leaving theater. Well that's hardly surprising, is it?

3-5% (30-50) had "significant mental health" issues" (most likely PTSD - I'll tell you how I arrived at this later) immediately after leaving the war theater

13% (130) of troops still in the combat zone had "significant mental health" issues in 2004 (but how many of these will disappear when the combat stress disappears? we don't know).

So why am I not more alarmed? Perhaps because, oh... about 8 paragraphs into the linked article is this little gem which the author conveniently "forgets" to mention:

Military medical officials, however, cautioned against people reading their data as suggesting the war had driven so many soldiers over the edge. Instead, they characterized the anxiety and stress as normal reactions to combat, seeing dead and mutilated bodies, and feeling helpless to stop a violent situation.
Only about 4 percent or 5 percent of troops coming home from combat actually have PTSD, but many others face problems adjusting when they come home, Kiley said.

Well of course they do. War is not Romper Room. It really bites. So how does our friend at the HuffPost characterize the problem? He hares off on a mind-numbing journey into arm-waving innumeracy:

More frightening however is that “30 percent of the cases [of post traumatic stress disorder] don't manifest themselves until 10 years after the traumatic event, according to medical literature,” according to a UPI article, posted on Military.com. Clearly, this will then increases the overall number of 30 percent.

Mein Gott Im Himmel! Against stupidity of this magnitude the Gods struggle in vain:

Clearly, this will then increases the overall number of 30 percent????

First of all, subject-verb agreement is "clearly" not this gentleman's strong point. Nor, apparently, is logic. The total number of cases of PTSD remains constant, regardless of whether a third of them show delayed onset.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I keep going back to the HuffPost hoping it has improved. Undeterred by the sound of his own voice, Dal LaMagna blathers on...

But let’s translate these percentages to real numbers that represent real individuals.

I can hardly wait. Lay it on me.

More than “1 million U.S. troops have fought in the wars since Sept. 11, 2001, according to Pentagon data. As of Jan. 31, 2005, the exact figure was 1,048,884, approximately one-third the number of troops ever stationed in or around Vietnam during 15 years of that conflict.”

Thirty percent of the number of current troops then is close to 316,000. This means that close to a third of a million of our troops will experience mental health problems because of the war.

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
Step outta line, the man come
and take you away...

Now one million is an extremely interesting number. I will be quite happy to take corrections from any and all comers because I'm just a dumb Marine wife who also happens to crunch numbers for a living. But by my reckoning, it ought to break down something like this:

We've only been over there since March of 2003.

We have around 130-140K people in Iraq now and 16K in Afghanistan and we've been at around that number for a goodly part of 2005. So take that off 1 million and you have around 850K spread out over 2004 and 9 months of 2003.

According to Pentagon data, lots of people have been over there two and three times. Did we have 425K troops a year over there in 2003 and 2004? And here I thought we didn't go in with enough boots on the ground? Man I am *so* confused...

But let's accept that million troops and apply some historical numbers to that figure. Let's assume we've learned absolutely nothing about mental health since the 1960's. That leaves us with:

15-17% if you use Iraq war vet figures - say 20%, worst case with 30% delayed onset

11.2% if you use Afghanistan vet figures - say 15% worst case with 30% delayed onset

15% if you use Vietnam vet figures

2-10% if you use Gulf war figures

if you use the general civilian population figures, which you wouldn't, for comparison

Two things leap out at me from these numbers. One, 15% looks like a good median figure if I had to take a stab at it, because there just wasn't heavy prolonged combat in the Gulf war and that may be artificially low. Two, long experience tells me that preliminary numbers are usually a bit high and end up being adjusted downwards, so that pushes me back towards 15% too for the eventual Iraq number.

Now the truly interesting thing is that when I fed the numbers from the beginning of the article into my little calculator, I got very different results:

Iraq: of 168,000 troops:

.095% had PTSD,
3.2% had combat-related mental health problems,
16.67 sought health care of any kind.

Afghanistan: of 44,000 troops,
.329% had PTSD,
2.7% had combat-related mental health problems.

Even if you multiply these percentages out to compensate for the fact that only 1/5 of those who need help, seek it, they still come out low. So either our servicemen are just entirely too well-adjusted, or someone's bean-counting is off.

I would suggest that looking at the long-term historical numbers is likely to prove a more reliable indicator. And that Mr. LaMagna's thirty percent is probably way, way off.

We don't need to break out the straightjackets just yet. And above all, let's not let our troops “lose moral"...because I just hate it when that happens.

Update: Kat from The Middle Ground has two very informative posts on PTSD at When Johnny Comes Marching Home: Demystifying PTSD and
part II: PTSD more common than you think if you're interested in learning more about it. I was very pressed for time when assembling this post - she did a far more thorough job of covering the topic, and I highly recommend checking out her posts.

I should, perhaps, state here that, like Kat, PTSD is a topic close to my heart as well. I have known many people who coped with it successfully, and I have seen it have tragic consequences when left untreated. I can't stress enough the importance of getting help early when symptoms appear. PTS is the body's normal , healthy response to stressful events and it is very treatable once you understand that. Destigmatizing it, especially for men, is crucial, as the stress of thinking people will think less of you, or think you are "going crazy" only makes the problem worse.

In my experience, strong people (leaders) are the most likely to have other people depending on them. And they often are the least likely to seek help, for fear somehow others will be disappointed in them. This is truly a tragedy, for this is a burden no one should have to carry alone.

Posted by Cassandra at August 4, 2005 02:32 PM

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Tracked on August 5, 2005 08:38 AM


I don't read the Huff Post much, but even as a died in the wool liberal I have no reason to think that PTSD or any other mental problem would be any greater in this war than your average war.

The basic problem is war itself. If the public feels the war justified, then this kind of carping has no traction. If the public doesn't see the point, then all the bad things associated with war hit home, and there is no convincing justification (for at least 50 percent of the public) to offset the losses.

The fault for the public morale is Bush's and entirely Bush's. He went to war with the attitude that the opinion of 50% of the American public just doesn't count. While Americans are being blown up to no apparent result other than to strengthen the hand of the Iranian mullahs, Bush feels obliged to push his rollback of the New Deal, which certainly has nothing to do with the GWOT or the GSAVE or whatever it is called now.

Imagine FDR trying to pull this kind of thing. Say Japan bombs us. We invade Spain because Franco is, after all, a dictator, and has "links" to the Axis. And it's easier. FDR's minions never lose an opportunity to call Republicans traitors. Then he pushes to nationalize General Motors and Standard Oil and perpetrate other leftist programs. The real enemy remains substantially untouched while our military resources are bogged down in a sideshow. How much public support do you think he would have had?

Or look at a real example, Truman and Korea. A war that I feel was justified. UN support. Still the public didn't strongly support it, because Kim Il-Sung wasn't perceived as a real threat to the US - compared to other, bigger threats, like for exampel the USSR.

If you have to spin your war and parse the meaning of "WMD's" and "torture" and "links", then you've lost the public mind already. This, I repeat, is Bush's fault.

Posted by: Old Testament Liberal at August 4, 2005 09:37 PM

Not to degrade those who truly have problems but You can modify all the numbers to reflect that 95% of those claiming mental health problems after returning from a combat zone are really smart people and know that this is the way to the extra lifetime VA check. No kidding, this has gone on since disability began and will continue for ever....The Dr's at the VA know this but can't really say it in public. From a 22 yr. vet with a 'physical' disability who 'see's' their play at the center and also 'see's' their activity when not at the center. Two totally different people in the same body. I don't blame them, they put their a** on the line and will never get any thanks for it.

Posted by: scrapiron at August 4, 2005 09:54 PM

The fault for the public morale is Bush's and entirely Bush's. He went to war with the attitude that the opinion of 50% of the American public just doesn't count.

...and the other 50% don't count to you?

Oh, and how exactly is public morale entirely Bush's fault when so many are doing their best to preach doom and gloom -- despite what people actually onsite are saying?

Posted by: Patrick Chester [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 4, 2005 10:44 PM

Say Japan bombs us. We invade Spain because Franco is, after all, a dictator, and has "links" to the Axis.

It's worse...
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor we actually did attack Northern Africa.

Posted by: Masked Menace© at August 4, 2005 11:00 PM

Actually, Cass, if you really wanted to debunk these numbers you could have quoted the number of PTSD and other mental health problems in the general public of which, I believe that the military numbers are tracking at or slightly below the national average.

I believe a number of us have already debunked this cry although, I would say that PTSD is a serious condition.

Not to toot my own horn, but I did a series of posts on the subject explaining the differences in what are actually two diagnosis. One is "acute" and the other is "chronic".

The acute condition has the same name basically. Post Traumatic Stress. It does not get the infamous "disorder" on the end because this is usually temporary lasting from a few weeks to a few months. Lots of people get this in civilian life from even simple things like being involved in a car accident, having a loved one die unexpectantly, watching your house burn down, etc. As a matter of fact, if you read the literature on Sept 11 psychiatry and see the DOJ statistics on crime (of which suicide is listed as one), there was a marked increase in psychological health issues and in suicides.

But, most people go under the "acute" condition which is short termed. This means that about a year after, the case load returned to "normal". It's against these "normal" numbers that people should be ranked and you are very correct in pointing out those who actually suffer from PTS as opposed to the harder to solve PTSD which does have long term effect.

the Chronic condition is actually PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and this is usually diagnosed if the original "acute" condition lasts from appx 6 months or longer. Again, military incidents do not really exceed the natioinal "civilian" average though police officers, EMTs, Firemen, doctors and nurses are among the highest groups that suffer under these conditions.

If you would like more information, the appropriate website to reference would be:

National Center for PTSD

You can tell these folks never do any real research. PTSD alone is diagnosed in about 8% of the American Adults. That's across the board. One might add that the military is much better at capturing information on their soldiers' conditions than the public sector these days because they do mandatory decompression when the soldiers redeploy and officers and NCOs actually receive some training on recognizing and referring problems to the medical officers before they become major incidents which accounts for the "high numbers" this character is quoting.

In the public sector, you either have to notice it yourself or be a danger to the public in order to get diagnosed.

My two posts:
When Johnny Comes Marching Home: Demystifying PTSD
part II: PTSD more common than you think

Posted by: kat-missouri at August 4, 2005 11:56 PM

You can "disassemble" all you want, MM, but the freshest poll shows 38% of the public approve of Bush's handling of the war.



If the Republicans are the party of responsibility, it's time to stop blaming everybody else except those who really screwed up and continue to do so, and figure out how to win. Bush is not going to win the war by whining about the liberal media.

As to whether I care about the opinion of the "other 50%", of course I do - which is one reason I read this blog. Even if I didn't give a fig what Republicans think, I'm not a President leading a country to war. Bush doesn't have the luxury of being snotty. I do. One expects a President to be somewhat above the average in leadership capability. Just being the same as me doesn't qualify.

Now if we want to win, (and I do), I would suggest the first thing that needs shoring up is public support. Bush could start by firing Rummy, Condi, and Carl Rove, and appointing McCain as SecDef, Bill Clinton at State, and some generic Repub. as political hatchet man. The oldest principle of wartime accountability is if there is a screwup (or multiple screwups), heads must roll.

Ivan the Terrible would roast the screwups in the public square, but a simple resignation would suffice now. Bush likes to compare himself to Lincoln. Well, Lincoln fired half a dozen generals before he found one that did the job. The Republic cannot afford Bush's misguided loyalty.

Then we can revoke all the tax cuts for rich people and make them help pay for the war.

Posted by: Old Testament Liberal at August 5, 2005 01:22 AM

Ah yes, you "listen" to the other 50%... and wish they'd just shut up and do what you want them to do. Hence your laundry list of what the icky Bush Administration must do to win back your good graces... gosh, what tempting offers you have.

Such audacity, btw: preaching doom, gloom, defeatism... then blaming your opponent when people get depressed at all the negativity.

Posted by: Patrick Chester [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 5, 2005 02:51 AM

Bush could start by firing Rummy, Condi, and Carl Rove

Yep, then all Bush's domestic problems would just go away.

Please, if it weren't them it'd be someone else they'd complain about and you know it. The only way he'd have a chance with you guys is to replace the entire admin with democrats, and I seriously doubt that would even work.

He angered a lot of his supporters early on trying to be nice with you guys and it got him Hitler references. No matter what he does he will never gain democrat's support. So why should he try?

And how exactly is one man supposed to counter The NYT, LAT, WaPo, ABCNNBCBS reporting every little bad thing as being "objective" and refusing to run anything good because it's "tauting the admin line"? Even if Bush tried to talk about the good, would anyone really report it.

And lastly, since when was the popular thing to do and the right thing to do the same thing?

Posted by: Masked Menace© at August 5, 2005 09:51 AM

Well, I can't speak for every soldier over here, but I'm personally having anger management issues with the Palace guard in Baghdad.

Posted by: Frodo at August 5, 2005 10:39 AM

Cassandra, thanks so much for addressing the original article with the 30% number. I had much the same reaction to it (combat stress is normal, only a small percentage of that nubmer developed serious problems, etc.), but didn't have the confidence to address it on my blog. And of course, you did I much better job than I would have... :)

And in regards to those who suffer from either mild long-term effects or even things like severe recurring dreams many years later (PTSD?)... I have some friends who fall into that category, and I find them to be some of the most rational, well-adjusted, gentle people I know, even as they struggle with some pretty horrific memories of their experiences in combat. I'm sure many others posting here can think of people like that they know and love.

"Our soldiers are all being driven crazy?!?!" Ooo, this kind of thing just makes me want to scratch somebody's eyes out!!

Posted by: Fuzzybear Lioness at August 5, 2005 10:48 AM

Oops! I should have added "successful" to that list of adjectives above.

Posted by: Fuzzybear Lioness at August 5, 2005 10:54 AM

We elect leaders in this country to whom we give the responsiblity to make decisions on what needs to be done to maintain our safety and security. They are privy to classified information that we are not. I do NOT want a President, or any other leader, who looks to opinion polls about how Americans, "feel," about a war in order to decide what's best for our national security. That notion is utterly ridiculous, and dangerous.

Frankly, I don't believe that so many are,
"against," the Iraq war, but even if they are, why can't you Bush-bashers acknowledge that it is a product of the constant barrage of negativity spewed forth by the MSM? Don't tell me the war coverage is not biased! Nothing but the negative is reported. Why is it that what the troops say, who have actually been there, has little in common with what is reported?

It's Bush's fault? Isn't everything? It is to people who can't get through a post about the Iraq war without mentioning, "tax cuts for rich people."

Posted by: JannyMae at August 5, 2005 12:41 PM

JM and others:

Not everything is Bush's fault, but the war clearly is. And the fact that he hasn't the money to pay for it.

I case you hadn't noticed, I am not a leader of the left, and I don't own a newspaper or radio station or even a blog. Nobody listens to me, not even you guys. I'm just a citizen. Bush is the President. If he can't take the heat he should get out of the kitchen. Or should never have gotten into it in the first place.

As to my casual suggestions of a new look to the Cabinet there is a precedent. After the Gallipoli fiasco in WWI Asquith and Lloyd George (Liberals) were compelled form a coalition government with Conservatives, and Labour, to keep the nation focused on the war effort instead of on backbiting politics.

My point is that it appears to me Mr. Bush needs to do something different from what he's doing, because it doesn't appear to be working, and the public is losing faith in him. This is the price of leadership. President of the U. S. is a tough job, and this should be a wake-up call to the GOP to avoid putting in an unqualified candidate in the future. It doesn't help, in the face of failures, to just pretend eerything is all right.

LBJ in 1964 recognized the need for a change of leadership during Vietnam, and he bowed out. He felt he was more a liability to the cause than an asset. He was right, although Nixon didn't succeed either.

Posted by: Old Testament Liberal at August 5, 2005 08:57 PM

OTL - Tread lightly when citing the post-Gallipoli machinations of Asquith and George as a raison d’être for a shakeup in GWB's present cabinet. The unmitigated disaster of Gallipoli was due to generalship so abominable that even the Turks recognized it. Zero similarities between the Gallipoli op and OIF.

And ol' Landslide Lyndon didn't recognize the need for a change of leadership, he recognized that he would have been trounced if he'd run for another term--and that would have been a worse blow to his ego than merely walking offstage.

"...Nixon didn't succeed either." At what? Convincing the peaceniks to cease chanting their support for the black-pajama'd terrorists who got their butts handed to them every time we caught them out in the open?

Posted by: cw4billt at August 6, 2005 12:00 AM

Sorry for the minor rant, Cassie--my PTSD kicks in every [*twitch*] now and again...

Posted by: cw4billt at August 6, 2005 12:03 AM

Bush, "hasn't the money to pay for the war?" That's quite a ridiculous statement. We are in a war, yet tax revenue is up, and the deficit forecast is DOWN, and you're complaining about, "tax cuts for the rich?" Get some facts, please, OTL!

Posted by: JannyMae at August 6, 2005 12:47 PM

Bill, you can hold forth any time you want here :)

Posted by: Cassandra at August 6, 2005 04:49 PM

Just for the record:
LBJ won a landslide in '64 (and you can look it up!). /opinion/ After that, he should have ditched all the foreign policy and DOD people that were brought in by JFK, because these people were NOT loyal to LBJ (I'm no big fan of LBJ, but he was poorly served by the people in his cabinet).
By spring '68 (after the Tet offensive), his own party was divided (Bobby Kennedy looked like a possible nominee, against a SITTING president, as LBJ had lost the support of the liberal left-wing of his party. Of course, RFK had done politcal handspring from being a staunch interventionist while serving under his brother, to moving left of LBJ as the war in Viet Nam drug on in the '60's (what an opportunist!). Tragically, he was murdered in '68 by a crazy Arab (imagine that, maybe the first major American killed in the Terror War).
Before that, LBJ had abdicated, but I have read that Air Force One was sitting on the runway in Austin, ready to fly Johnson to Chicago during the convention of '68 if the party wanted to draft him. Also, his heart was in bad shape and he knew it (he had already had two heart attacks, and he would be dead in five years from heart problems).
Don't know what all this means, but nothing is as clear as it orignially seems.

Posted by: David at August 6, 2005 05:13 PM

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