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Stress Hits US Workers In Iraq

The precise numbers of PTSD sufferers are yet to be determined, but concern is growing that figures for civilians may be higher than those for military personnel.
by Gina Salerno
UPI Correspondent
Washington (UPI) June 25, 2007
More than 70 percent of civilian workers returning from service in Iraq may be suffering from symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, Congress has been told. "I think its fair to say based on the anecdotal reports and from our survey ... that it appears most people -- let's say 70 or 80 percent of those who leave Iraq -- have some sort of emotional problem at least temporarily when they return to the United States," Dr. Lawrence G. Brown, the State Department's medical director, told the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia of the U.S. House of Representatives.

However, Brown said the vast majority of these individuals recovered without treatment within a few months of returning from Iraq.

Steven Kashkett vice president of the American Foreign Service Association, told the hearing that an ongoing survey of foreign service officers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, conducted by the State Department, had catalogued symptoms including "difficulty sleeping, nightmares, lack of concentration, feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide."

Kashkett called for more open discussions about the "problem of post-traumatic stress disorder in the broader context of concerns about the size of our diplomatic mission in Iraq and about the ability of unarmed diplomats to perform the tasks assigned to them in the middle of a highly unstable internal conflict."

The precise numbers of PTSD sufferers are yet to be determined, but concern is growing that figures for civilians may be higher than those for military personnel. Many foreign service officers returning from Iraq "have commented that they had little opportunity for proper counseling before, during, or after their assignments. Some felt they were penalized for raising their concerns about PTSD by having their medical or security clearances suspended," Kashkett said.

The American Foreign Service Association serves as the official labor union and the professional association for members of the Unites States Foreign Service. The organization is concerned about the additional stress to its members coming from their service in new Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq, Kashkett said.

Those assigned to these newly created EPRTs will be embedded with mobile combat units of the U.S. military in hostile areas, Kashkett said. Foreign service officers "already assigned to regional embassy offices and Provincial Reconstruction Teams in other parts of Iraq often live on U.S. military Forward Operating Bases in combat areas and work entirely in a 'red zone' environment," he said.

Iraq and Afghanistan "are unique cases where we are sending unarmed civilian employees of the U.S. government into active combat zones," Kashkett said. They "are not soldiers and are not trained for armed combat. Yet in Iraq, they are often directly exposed to conditions of war which they may not always be well-adapted to cope," he said.

However, Brown dismissed widespread concerns that foreign service officers who came forward to seek treatment for their PTSD symptoms could jeopardize their medical clearance, security clearance or their careers. "There have not been any employees who lost their medical clearance because of PTSD or PTSD-like symptoms," he told the hearing.

"Some employees, I estimate fewer than 20, may have had their medical clearance changed from unlimited worldwide availability to a post-specific availability," he said.

The State Department offers exit briefings to reduce the likelihood of employees suffering stress-related problems on their return from high-pressure assignments and encourages those who do to seek treatment.

The hearing also discussed concerns that private contractors and non-career civil service appointees working in Iraq could lose their health coverage on their return home.

Brown acknowledged that medical coverage for those people ended with the termination of their employment. However, "they are covered by worker's compensation for injuries or occupational health conditions that develop in performance of duty or as a direct result of employment," he said.

Source: United Press International

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Iraq Onslaught Aimed At DC
Washington (UPI) June 26, 2007
Top U.S. commanders are closely watching the moves of al-Qaida in Iraq, puzzling about what seems to be a counterproductive strategy of massive bombings. Spectacular attacks across the country are deepening the rifts within the Sunni population that AQIz -- as it is known in U.S. military parlance -- depends on for both active and passive support. Those rifts are already deep divides in parts of Anbar province and are growing elsewhere, including in Baquba, according to U.S. military sources.

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