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Washington • A University of Utah academic implored members of Congress to rethink a defense policy that relies on deploying the same men and women into war zones over and over again.
It's "a near guarantee" that a soldier who experiences repeat combat will suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and many will at least attempt to kill themselves.
David Rudd, the scientific director for the U.'s National Center for Veterans Studies, presented the results of his recent study on Tuesday to a trio of lawmakers and about 15 congressional staffers at a meeting of two House caucuses that support veterans.
He attributed at least part of the troubling spike in military suicides to the repeat deployments that have become the hallmark of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I think we have the best, most superior, professional military in the world," said Rudd, a former Army psychologist, "but the question is how much can one individual take over the course of 10 years? How many times can you be expected to go back into combat and be expected to deal with that?"
He surveyed 244 veterans who experienced heavy combat and found that 93 percent qualified for a PTSD diagnosis and 70 percent had attempted suicide. Rudd said a more robust study is needed to verify his results, but argued his study indicates the Department of Defense and Congress need to create two separate treatment tracks, one for service members who are not deployed and one for those who have experienced combat.
He criticized the Pentagon for repeatedly noting that 45 percent of suicides involve members of the military who have not gone to war. He said that statistic downplays the significant psychological trauma of a firefight, and is influenced by men and women who have psychological problems prior to joining the service.
"Clearly there is a connection here between heavy combat exposure, post trauma symptoms and the probability of suicide risk, and that group should be treated in a very distinctive way than the sample that has never been deployed," he said.
Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., who invited Rudd to make his presentation, said she would defer to the military on deployments, but took his advice to heart, saying, "If we know multiple deployments is going to result in PTSD, let's make every effort to avoid that situation."
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., a retired Army captain who served in Korea, also attended the briefing, and said: "If you get shot at, it does change you. I can tell you."
He said Rudd's research should lead to more proactive psychological treatment, where the military seeks out soldiers who may be at risk before their lives unravel.
"You can identify that person before they get out of the military and start right now," Roe said. "That is what we should be doing."
Rudd is in the process of creating a consortium of universities involving Syracuse, which is in Buerkle's district, along with Purdue and the University of Southern California. The group is negotiating greater access to data collected by the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct more extensive research.
About the study
O The new University of Utah study showed 93 percent of veterans who saw heavy combat qualified for a PTSD diagnosis and 70 percent had attempted suicide. Read about the research here.