Some Who Suffer from PTSD Never Get Better

As many as 11 percent of Vietnam veterans diagnosed with PTSD still suffer from the disorder

U.S. Army combat medic Shawn Aiken lies down during his EKG appointment at the VA Medical Center in El Paso, Texas May 24, 2013. Aiken, who served 16 months in Iraq and 13 months in Afghanistan and has been active duty for nearly 10 years, has severe post-traumatic stress disorder. IVAN PIERRE AGUIRRE/Reuters/Corbis

When U.S. military involvement in Vietnam ended in 1973, a surge of soldiers returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The disorder wouldn't be officially recognized by the psychological community for another seven years. By the mid-1980s, though, a study by the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Survey found that nearly 480,000 veterans were diagnosed with the disorder. These veterans made up the largest cohort of American PTSD suffers from any war in the past century, says the San Francisco Chronicle.

Now, a follow-up study has found that though most PTSD sufferers learn to cope with the disorder, some never do. For those affected by their tours in Vietnam, 11 percent have carried the effects of PTSD with them for the rest of their lives. And their lives, says the New York Times, were often cut short:

About two in 10 of the veterans who participated in the landmark study at the beginning, in the 1980s, died prematurely, by retirement age. Those with lifetime PTSD were twice as likely to have died than those who did not have the disorder, their lives often claimed by the rough hand of a life on the margins: injuries, accidents, suicide and homicide.

The research, says the Times, is a sign that those working to treat PTSD need to try something new. Figuring this out is especially important as thousands of young veterans have recently returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD. As many as 16 percent of the soldiers and Marines who fought on the ground in Iraq have PTSD, said a 2006 study. That's thousands of soldiers who may face a life of “invasive memories, nightmares, loss of concentration, feelings of guilt, irritability and, in some cases, major depression,” says the Harvard Gazette.

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