American veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are filing for disability benefits at a rate never seen before, causing many to worry about the physical and mental health of a generation of troops, reports the AP. Of the 1.6 million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, a hefty 45% are applying for injury-related compensation, well up from the estimated 21% who filed for help after the Gulf War in the 1990s. Almost one-third have been granted disability so far. And those applying for benefits in the last year claimed as many as 14 ailments—a huge jump from the average of four among Vietnam War vets and two among those who fought in Korea.
The increased percentage of disability filings is reflective of improvements in battlefield care and body armor, which are allowing soldiers to survive what would have once been fatal injuries. Of new veterans who have sought VA care, more than 1,600 have lost a limb, 156 are blind, and thousands more are disfigured by injuries, with 200 possibly needing face transplants. "The numbers are pretty staggering," said one surgeon. But a higher survival rate isn't the only driver: the weak economy and a growing recognition of problems like concussions and PTSD are also believed the be contributing to the increase.