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Cases of post traumatic stress disorder and other mental ailments are on the rise among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who seek medical attention from the Veterans Administration, the Associated Pressreported today.

More than one-third of veterans returning from the ongoing conflicts have reported symptoms of stress or other mental disorders, according to a VA report. That’s a tenfold increase in 18 months.

Locally, the total number of vets from Iraq and Afghanistan who sought mental health services at the VA San Diego Medical Center in La Jolla has jumped from 38 percent to 45 percent within the last year, a spokeswoman for the VA healthcare system in San Diego said.

Here’s the national breakdown from the AP:

Nearly 64,000 of the more than 184,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have sought VA health care were found to exhibit potential symptoms of post-traumatic stress, drug abuse or other mental disorders as of the end of June, according to the latest report by the Veterans Health Administration. Of those, close to 30,000 had possible post-traumatic stress disorder, said the report, which was completed in August and recently obtained by the Associated Press.

While extended and multiple tours abroad may be contributing factors to the rise, some officials claim the increase in mental health cases may actually be a good sign:

Veterans and Defense Department officials said the increase in soldiers complaining of stress or symptoms of mental disorder may suggest that efforts to reduce the stigma of such problems are working and that commanders and medical personnel are more adept at recognizing symptoms.

The AP reports that many veterans groups are worried that the VA may not be able to meet the increasing demand for mental health services, but VA and Defense Department officials cited staff and budget increases as well as mandatory education sessions for returning troops as mitigating factors.

At the La Jolla medical center, vets with non emergency cases are currently able to make an appointment with a counselor with two weeks, a spokeswoman said.

Michael Kussman, the VA’s top doctor, told AP that increase in reported symptoms likely represents a “gross overestimation” of actual cases and that most of the returning troops have “normal reactions to abnormal situations,” such as flashbacks or trouble sleeping.

DANIEL STRUMPF

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