Medical Evacuations Of Service Members Due To Mental Health Issues Higher Than Usual

Mental health is a big concern in the U.S. Military. 

By Hanna Bogorowski

A July report released by the Military Health System shows the leading cause for medical evacuations in 2017 was overwhelmingly due to mental illness.

The Medical Surveillance Monthly Report revealed that a total of 626 troops were medically evacuated in 2017, and 148 were because of mental illness, accounting for more evacuations than any other category.

The most common mental health issues were either depression or reaction to severe stress and adjustment troubles, according to the report.

Further, more men were evacuated for mental health issues than women, 119 versus 29, and more men, 535, were evacuated in general in 2017, compared to just 91 women.

However, the rate of medical evacuations in 2017 was 26 percent higher among females than males.

Comparatively, just 53 troops were medically evacuated because of battle injuries.

While the number attributed to mental health of U.S. troops was high, the report suggests it’s not necessarily out of the ordinary.

“Most evacuations in 2017 as well as during the overall 2013 – 2017 surveillance period were attributed to mental health disorders, followed by non- battle injuries, signs and symptoms, and musculoskeletal disorders,” the report states.

While some studies have noted increase access to mental health care in deployed areas, the results from the Military Health System do not demonstrate a clear correlation between improved access to mental health care and the rate of mental health care evacuations.

“In these settings [deployed areas], the distribution of providers and clinics that deliver such services is uneven and varies according to factors such as the number of deployed personnel and the assessed needs of the particular unit,” the report says.

For Afghanistan specifically, the number of mental health care facilities in the area decreased in 2013 with the decrease in deployed troops.

In terms of the severity of the 626 medical evacuations, the overwhelming majority, 83.7 percent, were “routine.”

The remainder had priority, 14.1 percent or urgent, 2.2 percent, precedence.

An editorial comment in the report says that the majority service members who were evacuated for any reason returned to service following their hospitalizations or outpatient situations.

It also compares the number of troops evacuated to previous years, and says 2017 had a relatively low number of medical evacuations, suggesting that “most deployers were sufficiently healthy and ready for their deployments […]”

President Donald Trump on July 24 named Jake Leinenkugel, a White House political appointee and adviser on veterans issues, to head the VA’s mental health program, “Creating Options for Veterans’ Expedited Recovery Commission.”

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