How Many Soldiers Live With PTSD?

Combat related maladies like Posttraumattic Stress “Disorder” (PTSD) and Moral Injury afflict veterans of all wars, even though most of the recent attention has been on those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before PTSD was recognized by the DSM-III in 1980, it was called Vietnam Syndrome by VA social workers and clinicians, and in WWII it went by several names (some of which were medically diagnosable), like Shell Shock, Neurasthenia, War Neurosis, etc. But combat stress affects people of all ages.

I recently set out to try to estimate how many living veterans are affected by combat stress.

Data are being collected in increasingly reliable and measurable ways, so we can venture a rough guess. I say ‘rough guess’ because Googling “How many veterans live with PTSD?” sends you down too many rabbit holes to be helpful. Luckily, I found a couple somewhat reliable data sets, direct from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health.

There are 2015 numbers from the VA (pdf) about how many living veterans there are for various conflicts (even though I have linked a CNN article below), so we have raw numbers for that. There are also some decent statistics for the prevalence of combat stress as well, even if most grassroots level clinicians and practitioners (myself included) suspect empirical data is more optimistic than personal experience reflects…

World War Two has 1.7 million living veterans, at a 27 percent PTSD rate

459,000 WWII veterans live w/ PTSD

*percentage cited by Schnurr, p.2 in 1991

Korean War has 2.3 million living veterans, at a 27 percent PTSD rate

621,000 Korea veterans live w/ PTSD

*percentage cited by Schnurr, p.2 in 1991

Vietnam War has 7.4 million living veterans, at a 30 percent PTSD rate

2,220,000 Vietnam veterans live w/ PTSD

Gulf War has 2.3 million living veterans, at a 12 percent PTSD rate

276,000 Gulf War veterans live w/ PTSD

GWOT has 1.95 million living veterans, at a 15.5 percent PTSD rate

302,250 GWOT veterans live with PTSD

*VA Public Health cites 1,189,702 as 61 percent of all separated GWOT veterans, so 100% would be 1.95 million. Specific PTSD rates for GWOT PTSD split by theater are hard to come by, but 15.5 is the average of 11 and 20, cited here.

If the above is true, then we can total the raw numbers on the right for an educated guess as to how may veterans (of any conflict) are currently living with Combat stress;

3,878,250 veterans are currently living with PTSD

Now let’s think about how this relates to the Church.

If Christians are at all as well represented in the military community as they are in the general American population, which the Pew Research Center suggests stands at about 70%, then the number of Christian veterans living with PTSD would be about 70% of 3,878,250.

About 2,714,775 Christian veterans are living with PTSD

If we keep trusting the 70% rate, and if the military is roughly representative (it’s not, but for the purpose of illustration, let’s pretend we live in a perfect system where those who serve reflect those who don’t), then 14 (70%) of the 20 soldiers who take their own lives everyday likely self-identify as Christian. In other words, the #22kill campaign, highlighting the veteran suicide rate, might be translated to Christian soldiers as #15kill or #15dead.

About 14 Christian soldiers commit suicide everyday. 

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