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Many veterans not treated for stress, study says

WASHINGTON -- Less than a quarter of the US military's Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who show signs of post-traumatic stress are referred for additional mental health treatment or evaluation, according to a government study.

The report, released by the Government Accountability Office yesterday, said about 5 percent of the veterans interviewed after they returned from combat tours appeared at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder. Of those, about 22 percent are referred for more healthcare.

The GAO said the Defense Department can't guarantee that those who need referrals get them, and there appear to be inconsistencies in how healthcare workers from the different military services determine who needs a referral.

The GAO found that 9,145 of the 178,664 service members reviewed may have been at risk for combat stress. And 2,029 were referred for additional help.

Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, disagreed with suggestions that not all of the veterans who need referrals get them. In a response included with the GAO report, the Pentagon said the clinicians are familiar with combat demands, and in some cases a medical referral or treatment may prolong symptoms that could disappear naturally.

Combat stress symptoms may be relieved by rest and a return to normal daily life, the Defense Department said.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the military is making more services available for troops returning from war.

The GAO report recommended that the Pentagon determine how healthcare providers are deciding who needs a referral, to explain why some military services are more likely than others to refer veterans who show signs of post-traumatic stress.

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