Video: Troops experience psychological wounds

By Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/12/2007 7:34:53 PM ET 2007-03-12T23:34:53

Michael Walcott served in Iraq for eight months, until he was wounded in a mortar attack. His back and legs were hurt, but it is the post-traumatic stress disorder that bothers him most.  He suffers frequent panic attacks — recently in a stalled  elevator.

"It was like I was back in Iraq having this sweat," says Walcott. "I could barely breathe. And it was really just like all those mortars were coming in."

How many Iraq vets suffer PTSD and other mental disorders? A study out Monday offers a clue. Among vets who served in Iraq and Afghanistan seeking treatment at VA facilities between September 2001 and September 2005 31 percent were diagnosed with at least one mental or psycho-social disorder.

Dr. Karen Seal, who headed the study, says the numbers could be far higher.

"It is very difficult to get individual veterans to disclose mental health symptoms," Seal says. "I think they feel a lot of shame and they are worried about the ramifications of disclosing mental health symptoms."

Studies of soldiers and Marines who fought in Vietnam show that 15 percent suffer post-traumatic stress to this day. But many experts think the numbers for the Iraq war could be far higher. One reason is that troops in this war are often exposed to blasts from roadside bombs, or IEDs.

Experts caution that repeated exposure to explosions can cause hidden injuries that have the same symptoms that plague Michael Wolcott and tens of thousands of other veterans of this war.

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