Soaring Mental Health Evacuations Reflect Growing Concerns for Deployed U.S. Troops



Mental Health Evacuations

In the evolving landscape of military health, a concerning trend has emerged, as mental health evacuations for deployed U.S. troops are on the rise. While the overall rate of hospitalizations for active-duty troops has decreased following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the surge in mental health-related cases points to the escalating national mental health crisis.

This revelation comes from recent survey data featured in the U.S. military’s Medical Surveillance Monthly Report. The report, covering the years 2018 to 2022, sheds light on military health provider encounters, hospitalizations, and five-year trends in troop medical evacuations for noncombat conditions.

Data Shows Increase In Mental Health Evacuations

Notably, the data reveals a significant increase in mental health-related evacuations, especially in regions like U.S. Central Command, encompassing the Middle East. The trend is stark: mental health-related evacuations have risen steadily every year since 2019 in this command.

In 2022, a staggering 38.8% of evacuations from Central Command were attributed to mental health disorders, compared to 33.5% in 2021 and 27.2% in 2020. Out of 691 total evacuations for the region in 2022, 268 troops were evacuated for mental disorders, making it the largest evacuation category.

Similarly, in U.S. Africa Command, where overall medical evacuations increased steeply in 2022 due to changes in global force posture, mental health emerged as the second most common cause of medical evacuations at 14.8%.

The leading cause was “non-battle injury and poisoning” at 30.1%. Thirty-four service members were evacuated for mental disorders from Africa Command in 2022, out of 229 total evacuations.

Comparing historical data, the mental health medical evacuation rate from Iraq between 2003 and 2011 was 11.6%, significantly lower than the current rate. Notably, all troops were evacuated to the U.S. or Europe, where they received further treatment from medical providers.

In-theater medical encounters attributed to mental health disorders have also witnessed an overall increase. Over the five-year surveillance period, these encounters rose from 4.4% to 6.2%. Among the mental health conditions requiring an encounter, “adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood” topped the list.

Examining stateside data reveals a noteworthy pattern. The rate and numbers of active-duty and reserve component hospitalizations decreased across major diagnostic categories from 2018 to 2022, except for mental health disorders. There was a slight increase in mental health-related hospitalizations from 5.7% to 5.9%.

This disturbing trend prompts urgent questions about the well-being of deployed U.S. troops and the mental health support mechanisms in place. The rising numbers of mental health-related evacuations and encounters suggest a critical need for enhanced mental health resources and strategies to address the unique challenges faced by military personnel.

Experts and officials are grappling with the implications of these findings. As the nation witnesses a surge in mental health concerns among its troops, the call for comprehensive mental health support and intervention strategies becomes increasingly imperative.

The complexities of deployment, coupled with the evolving landscape of global military engagements, demand a proactive and adaptive approach to safeguarding the mental well-being of those in service.

In response to these revelations, military leadership is urged to prioritize mental health initiatives, fostering an environment that encourages open dialogue, access to specialized care, and the destigmatization of seeking mental health support.

The data serves as a stark reminder that as military operations change, so too must the approach to mental health care for those on the front lines.

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