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Report: Military sex assaults key in post-traumatic stress

| Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 7:54 p.m.

WASHINGTON — A new report required by Congress recommends that the Defense Department assess how well commanding officers handle sexual assault and harassment complaints when reviewing their job performances.

The Institute of Medicine said in the report released on Tuesday that military sexual assault appears to be an important factor in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. It cited previous research indicating that female veterans with a reported history of military sexual trauma were nine times more likely to have PTSD compared with other female veterans.

“Increased efforts by DOD are necessary, and a zero-tolerance approach should be implemented,” said the Institute of Medicine, an independent agency that provides advice concerning health and science to policymakers in the federal government and private sector.

The recommendation about sexual assaults is part of a broad look at the health needs of troops and veterans involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although most of the returning troops have adjusted well to life after deployment, 44 percent have reported some readjustment problems.

The most common overlapping health problems are PTSD, substance abuse, depression and symptoms attributed to traumatic brain injuries.

The problems cropping up today are really just the beginning, the report said.

“Previous wars have demonstrated that veterans' needs peak several decades after their war service,” the panel said.

To prepare for those costs, the federal government should undertake long-term-cost forecasts, such as those that Congress requires for Social Security and Medicare, the panel said. Forecasts should be conducted annually and publicly released by the Veterans Affairs Department and confirmed by an independent expert.

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