By Melissa Bynes Brooks
Friday, March 30, 2012
Expenditures for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in soldiers returning from combat theater in Iraq and Afghanistan has an exponential impact on the U.S. health care system. PTSD and TBI are common conditions in soldiers that witness trauma and are exposed to explosions.
On March 28, 2012, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, during a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing that examined the health care of wounded soldiers said, “Just because a war is over for us doesn’t mean it is over for the soldier, or his spouse, or her children. Some bear the permanent injuries of war, but all bear the permanent impact.”
There is no doubt that increased health care spending is related to the number of PTSD and TBI diagnosed cases. The U.S. spends approximately 17% of its gross domestic product (GDP), on health care. GDP is important because it serves as an indicator of the condition, of a country’s economy. No other country spends more than 12% of its GDP on health care and the U.S. does worse than most other countries in every measure of health outcomes.
It’s estimated that PTSD occurs in 11 to 20 veterans out of every 100, for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Since 2000, 229,000 soldiers have been diagnosed with TBI. Since 2005, TBI has occurred in 17,000 Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers during combat theater. 89,000 deployed veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD. The Department of Defense (DoD) focuses on acute detection while the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) focuses on long term complications. The number of TBI injuries according to data from the DoD, which provides medical care to service members while deployed, totaled 30, 380 during the fourth quarter of 2011 (October through December).
In February 2012, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) did a study that examined costs for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), which provides health care after service members return from deployment, for the treatment of PTSD and TBI. The findings indicated the VHA spent about $2 billion in fiscal year 2010, from October 1 to September 30, to treat combat veterans. The medical costs per veteran during the first year of treatment averaged $8,300.00 for PTSD; $11, 700.00 for TBI; $13, 800.00 for PTSD and TBI combined; and $2,400.00 for recent veterans with neither condition. In subsequent years of treatment, the costs decreased when compared to the first year. Amounts did not include initial care provided by the DoD or care by other providers outside of the VHA. The VHA has also hired more than 7,500 mental health professionals to serve the growing population of veterans and has established specialized rehabilitation centers for veterans with multiple complex injuries including TBI since 2005. This increased costs also.
It is important to estimate the required costs for providing necessary evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and management for combat veterans. However, forecasts regarding costs are ambiguous without knowing the number of veterans that will actually be diagnosed with PTSD and TBI, and without knowing the number of veterans that will seek treatment. Some policymakers have questioned whether DoD and VHA have the resources and capacity to serve the veteran population with PTSD and TBI.
There is some hope. The Affordable Care Act which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010, includes measures aimed at making health care less expensive and more accessible, including upgrades to government-run Medicare and Medicaid. There are provisions in the law for veterans with advanced appropriations to ensure efficient, timely, and predictable medical services. Unfortunately, if the law is repealed, implications for veterans will consist of higher costs and fewer choices for services. The Affordable Care Act may be a tenable solution within the context of a costly health care system and should be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
i) U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md) (2012). Mikulski Stands Up For Access to Treatment and Care for Wounded Service Members. Retrieved March 30, 2012, from http://www.mikulski.senate.gov/media/pressrelease/3-28-2012-1.cfm
ii) Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2011). Health at a Glance. Retrieved March 30, 2012, from http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/12/16/49084355.pdf
iii) U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD Public Section Information on Trauma and PTSD Veterans General Public and Family (2012). Retrieved March 28, 2012, from
iv) Curtin, L. and Mirkin, M. (2012). Healing the injured brain: VA, DOD Joins Forces on
Research to Combat TBI, PTSD. Retrieved March 28, 2012, from
v) Defense Medical Surveillance System (DMSS) and Theater Medical Data Store (TMDS) Prepared by Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC) (2012). TBI Numbers By Severity – All Armed Forces. Retrieved March 29, 2012 from,
vi) Congress of the United States Congressional Budget Office (2011). The Veterans Administration Treatment of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury Among Recent Combat Veterans. Retrieved March 28, 2012, from http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/02-09-PTSD.pdf
vii) The White House Washington. Health Reform for American Veterans and Military Personnel. (2010). Retrieved March 29, 2012, from http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/health_reform_for_veterans.pdf