mhMental Health & Older VeteransEd. Note: To coincide with Independence Day celebrations, we’re offering an educational 4-part series “Saluting our Soldiers.” We’re taking a closer look at the mental health issues facing today’s soldiers and veterans—and sharing the latest research news affecting military personnel.

Overview: Recent findings presented at the annual “Brain at War” conference showed that living with untreated PTSD can have long-term effects on the brain and the body—including a higher risk of heart disease, a smaller hippocampus, and a two-fold increase in dementia risk. PTSD wasn’t recognized by the American Psychiatric Association until 1980—meaning that veterans who served in conflicts prior to that time face vastly different challenges than soldiers serving today. Besides PTSD, brain injuries, exposure to toxic chemicals, and other mental health issues pose unique challenges for multiple generations of veterans. Of course, the spouses and family members of veterans are affected as well.

Different wars, similar issues: Most people correctly associate a high incidence of PTSD with the Vietnam War, since about 30% of all Vietnam vets report experiencing PTSD at some point. But researchers estimate that as many as 20% of the nation’s 2 million surviving World War II vets also suffer from the long-term effects of PTSD—nearly 70 years later—with accompanying symptoms including long-term depression, survivor’s guilt, flashbacks, and nightmares. Among veterans of the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s, PTSD rates are lower, but many suffer health effects like fatigue, breathing problems, and cognitive issues due to chemical exposure during their service.

Research studies: Learn about the latest research on treating veterans.

  • Click here to read an overview of findings from Veterans Administration research presented at the most recent “Brain at War” conference.
  • Click here to read about a study from UC San Diego showing the effects of chemical exposure on the health outcomes of Persian Gulf veterans.
  • Click here to see a study about the effects of combat-related PTSD on the spouses of veterans.

Science spotlight: When dealing with the breadth of mental health issues facing veterans, innovative thinking is a key to improving outcomes.

NCIRE – The Veterans Health Research Institute is taking bold strides to research treatments and outcomes for all veterans. They partner with top scientists at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco to work towards their goal of advancing veterans’ health through research. You can visit their website to learn more.