Combat related maladies like Posttraumattic Stress (PTS) “Disorder” 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 wanted to know how many veterans are living with combat stress.
Data are being collected in increasingly reliable and measurable ways, so we can venture a rough guess. Nonetheless, Googling “How many veterans live with PTSD?” sends you down too many rabbit holes to be helpful. Luckily, I found a few somewhat reliable data sets, direct from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health.
There are numbers from the VA (pdf) from May 2017 about how many living veterans there are for various conflicts , so we have raw numbers for that. There are also some somewhat 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… In other words, between social stigma that keeps veterans from self-reporting, and the reliability issues created an interested party (the VA) providing the data, these stress rates are very conservative estimates.
Here is a sheet that breaks down the numbers to more digestible pieces;
Some important things to note about the above data, which I will try to keep updated as I find more reliable data;
- WWII & Korea rates were cited by Schnurr (p.2) in 1991
- Vietnam & Gulf rates cited by the VA here, under the heading “PTSD and the Military”
- 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 by the VA here.
If the above is true, then we can infer some basic anecdotal information. Not only are there 3,870,210 American veterans currently living with combat stress, we can also assume that the average stress rate across the conflicts named is almost 30%. The first problem this raises is that other, more updated sources cite the total number of living veterans at over 20 million, a significant difference from the above data.
Importance to the Church
The VA released information about veteran religious affiliation in August 2017, indicating that nine out of ten veterans identify as Christian. Veterans are about 20% more likely to consider themselves members of the Christian faith than their civilian counterparts. Specifically, the Pew Research Center found that 70.6% of Americans self-described that way, while the VA found that 91.5% of veterans did. We can apply the VA data to make an informed guess as to how many living veterans suffering from some form of combat stress are also members of the Christian tradition.
There are 3,541,242 Christian veterans living with combat stress
If we keep trusting the 90% rate from the VA, 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 90% of the 20 soldiers who take their own lives everyday likely self-identify as Christian.
18 Christian soldiers commit suicide everyday.