Nearly 1.9 million U.S. troops have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since October 2001. Most return successfully to their normal lives, but many have encountered serious challenges readjusting after their return home. These wars are unlike past conflicts, and the demographics of the all-volunteer military population have changed drastically since the previous war. Many service members deploy multiple times; reservists and National Guard members are called to active duty at an unprecedented rate; more service members are returning home with severe injuries; and more women and parents of young children serve on active duty. These unique circumstances cause unique problems for service members, veterans, and their families, both during and after deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2009, Congress asked the IOM to conduct a two-phase study to examine the physical, mental, and other needs of military personnel returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of veterans and their family members. This preliminary report presents findings on the scope and magnitude of the problems facing these populations, and lays out a plan for the detailed assessment in the second phase. In the interim, this initial report makes several recommendations that the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can act on now, including:
- estimating the number of mental health professionals needed and where they should be located to best care for the full population of returning service members and their families;
- conducting or funding research to develop guidelines for long-term management of polytrauma and traumatic brain injury; assessing the potential benefits of third-location decompression; examining how multiple deployments may affect domestic violence; and evaluating the effectiveness of mental health treatments for women and minorities;
- coordinating and evaluating the many existing readjustment and support programs to maximize their reach and effectiveness;
- producing annual long-term forecasts to ensure the VA will have the resources to care for and support this generation of veterans and family members throughout their lifetimes.