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Facts About "Invisible Wounds"

Thousands of soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan grapple with combat stress and/or TBI

Our country has been at war for more than a decade, and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are unlike any our nation has been engaged in.

As our veterans return to our communities following their service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and military families adjust to “The New Normal,” the Home Base Program encourages clinicians, government leaders, educators, business, family service organizations and the faith community to learn more about the experience of our service members, veterans and military families, and the “invisible wounds of war.”

Here Are a Few Key Facts to Begin

  • Less than 1% of Americans serve in the U.S. military.

  • More than 2 million men and women have served in the military since 2001 during our nation’s conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Approximately half deployed more than once, and many more than five times. There are more service members with families than in the past.

  • 37,000 Massachusetts men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, including National Guard and Reserve.

  • The Global War On Terror began September 11, 2001, and includes three major military combat operations:
    • OEF—Operation Enduring Freedom: Afghanistan Conflict, October 2001—Present
    • OIF—Operation Iraqi Freedom: Iraq, 2003—2010
    • OND—Operation New Dawn: Iraq, 2010 end of combat operations

  • Reserve and National Guard members represent 58% of our nation’s military, a higher percentage than in previous generations. These citizen soldiers and their families live in New England communities without a large military base. Spouses, children, siblings, and other family members need the support of important caring adults in their lives — employers, teachers, coaches, doctors, and clergy.

  • 50% of veterans will seek care in private settings, outside the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.

Military Families

Military families are extremely resilient. Military children move frequently, often changing schools more than six times during grade school and high school. But the wars of the past decade have been extremely challenging for military families because of the multiple deployments and the shorter “dwell time” between deployments.

  • Nationally, 2 million children have lived through a parent’s deployment.

  • More than 13,000 children in Massachusetts have a parent currently serving in the military, including the Reserve and National Guard. There are 230,000 military family members in Massachusetts.

  • Women now make up 14% of active duty military. More than 10% of women in the military are single parents. More than 180,000 women have served in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • A recent study of the medical records of 640,000 children ages 3 through 8 found when the children were separated from their parent because of deployment:
    • Pediatric visits for behavioral problems increased by 19%
    • Visits for stress disorders increased by 18%.
    • Child anxiety remains high, even after a parent returns.

Invisible Wounds

  • Most people return from war, and with time and support from family and friends, readjust.

  • The majority of returning veterans do not experience Post Traumatic Stress.

  • Post Traumatic Stress, PTS, PTSD, Combat Stress, Combat Operational Stress are all terms used to describe the conditions which affects hundreds of thousands of veterans. It is the body’s normal reaction to a traumatic event.

  • Symptoms of combat stress can occur anytime after returning home, and if the symptoms don’t go away, it’s important to seek help before they get worse. Symptoms include: difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, constantly feeling on alert, feeling numb, feeling irritable, avoiding people and places that are stressful.

  • Many symptoms of combat stress (Post Traumatic Stress) are similar to Traumatic Brain Injury including sleep trouble, concentration and memory problems, anxiety, irritability, and fatigue.

  • Traumatic Brain Injuries are the result of exposure to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), which produce blast fields and blast waves which affect the biological functions of the body.

  • Of those who have served, it’s estimated that one in three will experience an “invisible wound” – post traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury – the signature wounds of these wars. (Rand Report 2008)
    • 300,000 or one in five returning veterans experience post traumatic stress or major depression
    • 320,000 returning veterans report having had a possible traumatic brain injury
    • 7% report both - a probable brain injury and current PTSD or major depression.

  • According to the Rand report, less than 50% of veterans will seek care for these “invisible wounds of war.”

  • Treatment works. Research shows that a number of treatments are effective in helping veterans overcome Post Traumatic Stress including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE); Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), and Pharmacotherapy.

  • Effective treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury includes Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy, Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Physical Therapy.

Connect with Home Base for Care

To schedule a clinical appointment at the Home Base Program, contact us at 617-724-5202 or homebaseprogram@partners.org.

Are you in crisis? If you or a family member is in crisis or facing an emergency, go to the nearest emergency room or call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).