WASHINGTON - The number of troops diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder jumped by roughly 50 percent in 2007, the most violent year in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon records show.
It was the first time the Defense Department disclosed the number of cases from the two wars. Officials said nearly 40,000 troops have been diagnosed with the illness since 2003, though they believe many more are probably keeping their illness a secret.
"I don't think right now we . . . have good numbers," Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker said yesterday.
That's partly because officials have been encouraging troops to get help even if it means they go to private civilian therapists and don't report it to the military. The 40,000 cases cover only those the military has tracked.
Officials have estimated that roughly 50 percent of troops with mental health problems don't seek treatment because they're embarrassed or fear it will hurt their careers.
An accounting of diagnosed cases Schoomaker released to reporters yesterday shows the hardest hit last year were Marines and Army soldiers, the two ground forces bearing the brunt of the combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Army reported more than 10,000 new cases last year, compared with about 6,800 the previous year. More than 28,000 soldiers have been diagnosed with the disorder in the past five years.
The Marine Corps had more than 2,100 cases in 2007, compared with 1,366 in 2006. More than 5,000 Marine cases of post-traumatic stress disorder have been diagnosed since 2003.
Schoomaker attributed the big rise partly to the 2004 start-up of an electronic record system that captures more information and to record keepers' growing knowledge about the illness.
He also blamed the increased exposure of forces to combat, citing the troop buildup, the growing violence in both wars, and the fact that a number of troops are serving multiple or extended tours of duty.
The Pentagon had previously given only the percentage of troops believed affected by depression, anxiety, stress, and so on - saying up to 20 percent return home with such symptoms.
A recent private study estimated that could mean up to 300,000 of those who have served have symptoms.