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In a survey conducted this year of wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, nearly 80 percent reported having symptoms of a combat-related mental health condition, and roughly half said they had a traumatic brain injury.
Among the 2,300 Wounded Warrior Project members who responded to the survey, 62 percent said they currently have depression nearly eight times the rate in the general population and more than four times the figure cited in a 2008 Rand Corp. report on military head injuries and mental health conditions.
About a third said their conditions have made it difficult to get or hold a job. The conditions also hamper relationships and recovery, respondents said.
"WWP's experience is that PTSD and other invisible wounds can affect a warrior's readjustment in many ways impairing health and well-being, compounding the challenges of obtaining employment, and limiting earning capacity," Wounded Warrior Project President Dawn Halfaker told a joint session of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees on Wednesday.
Queried about their combat experiences, 83 percent said they had a friend who was seriously wounded or killed; 78 percent witnessed an accident that resulted in a serious injury or death; 77 percent saw dead or seriously injured civilians, and 63 percent saw these types of traumatic incidents six or more times.
"The most compelling issue before us and our deepest concern is [Veterans Affairs Department] mental health care," Halfaker said.
Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit founded in 2003 by a group of veterans and friends to help injured personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization conducts an annual survey to identify veterans' issues, gaps in benefits and medical care, and to better understand veterans' needs in terms of rehabilitation and reintegration.
Halfaker testified before the two-day joint session alongside representatives from 16 other veterans' organizations, discussing funding for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, veterans unemployment programs, mental health care, disability claims backlogs, burial benefits and looming budget cuts.
The Obama administration's 2013 budget proposal includes $140.3 billion for VA, a 10.5 percent increase from fiscal 2012.
The House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees are responsible for drafting VA's budget legislation.