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Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, director of strategic communications for the U.S. Military Health System, said officials are investigating how best to protect troops on the front lines from physical wear and tear. To do that, they are examining how much soldiers need to wear heavy protective body armor and carry water and food supplies, and the length of their rotation times, said Kilpatrick, who was not involved in the study.
Cohen and colleagues also found troops evacuated for psychiatric reasons increased 32 percent during 2004-2005 and 62 percent during 2006-2007. That might be due to the stress of longer tours of duty, he said, since troops often are more susceptible to mental illness the longer they serve.
"This is a new era for us with multiple deployments," Kilpatrick said. He said mental health programs were increasing in the military and that about 1,000 specialized staff had been added to address psychiatric issues.
Experts said the large number of soldiers with chronic physical pain was likely masking an even bigger problem with psychiatric illnesses such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
"It would be astonishing if that were not the case," said Simon Wessely, director of the Centre for Military Health Research at King's College London. Wessely also was not connected to the Lancet study.
"Many people have nonspecific symptoms like back pain, but when you need to evacuate them because of that, it's usually a marker that something else is going on," he said.
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