New research sheds light on the lingering effects that post-traumatic stress (PTS) can have on veterans long after they have returned home from deployment. A study of 1,007 Dutch soldiers has found that PTS symptoms among Afghanistan veterans spiked in the six months immediately after their return and resurfaced with greater severity five years later.
While PTS symptoms increased the most during the first six months after the service members returned home, they tended to subside after a year. However, researchers were most surprised by the prominence of PTS and severity of symptoms five years after the veterans’ return.
One possible explanation they offered for PTS re-emerging after a long time was that many service members rely on the support of a military group in the early stages to cope with traumatic events. However, such bonding with former peers tends to decrease with time, leading to a delayed stress reaction.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 11 to 20 percent of Iraq veterans in the United States suffer PTS symptoms each year. These symptoms can include nightmares, flashbacks, nervousness, fear, guilt, depression and difficulty concentrating.
Lead study author Iris Eekhout of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam said there is a lack of research into the long-term mental health effects that veterans experience. The findings suggest screening for PTS symptoms should continue for more than just a year after veterans return home. Doing so would ensure the condition does not go undiagnosed as new or recurrent cases could emerge.
Eekhout emphasized that it is crucial for veterans to have easy access to mental health care. “It is important to monitor their psychological health for a long time after deployment, because early detection of symptoms is essential to early treatment, which is related to positive outcome,” Eekhout said. The findings were published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry.