National Guard soldiers who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan report significantly higher rates of psychological disorders than do full-time soldiers, according to researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
The report's findings are particularly significant to areas like Long Island, which has several National Guard armories but no major defense facilities or military communities to provide needed emotional support to returning troops.
"The practical street level issue is you have this vast number of veterans coming back," said lead researcher Jeffrey Thomas. "These soldiers will be living in the community. This has broad implications."
Several members of the Guard's 69th Infantry Regiment, which has sent troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan from units based on Long Island, have reported experiencing extreme rage, depression, paranoia, difficulty with relationships and other psychological disorders. Nineteen members of the unit were killed while deployed in Iraq in 2004-05.
James Busco, 42, of Huntington Station, is one of those from the unit who say war-related anxieties have harmed their personal relationships.
"Sometimes everything is fine, and sometimes I avoid him," Busco said, gesturing toward his 2-year-old son, Nicolas, sleeping on a nearby couch.
The study, in the current issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, found that active duty and Guard troops returning from combat show similar rates of emotional disorders six months later. But at 12 months, Guard troops were reporting significantly more problems.
In the 12-month survey, more than one in six guardsmen said they had physically attacked someone within the prior month, and 30 percent of Guard troops reported at least some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
A New York National Guard spokesman said it was aware of the wartime stress on its troops.
Since 2008, it has required them to participate in post-deployment gatherings 30 days and 60 days after coming home, said spokesman Eric Durr. Soldiers are counseled on the psychological effects of war and are urged to get help if they need it.
Area health providers have also stepped up efforts to address the psychological needs of the growing number of returning troops. The Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center and North Shore/Long Island Jewish Health System have programs targeting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
Thomas said such programs do not fully address the emotional isolation many returning guardsmen feel as they must repeatedly flip between military and civilian life.
"When those soldiers come back they have to reintegrate into jobs and family life," he said. "The people they feel most comfortable talking to are the people they went to battle with. But they are not around."