MONDAY, March 12 (HealthDay News) -- About one-third of veterans of the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are at high risk of developing mental health problems that require targeted early intervention to prevent them from becoming chronic and disabling, according to study findings published in the March 12 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Karen H. Seal, M.D., of the San Francisco VA Medical Center in San Francisco, Calif., and colleagues conducted a study of 103,788 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, of whom 31 percent received a mental health and/or psychosocial diagnosis.

Most of the diagnoses were made early on, with a median of 13 days from the first VA clinic visit, and 60 percent were made in a primary care setting. Those at the greatest risk for mental illness were veterans aged 18 to 24 years. This group was more likely than those aged 40 years and over to be given a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Our results signal a need for improvements in the primary prevention of military service-related mental health disorders, particularly among our youngest service members," the authors conclude. "Furthermore, early detection and evidence-based treatment in both VA and non-VA mental health and primary care settings is critical in the prevention of chronic mental illness, which threatens to bring the war back home as a costly personal and public health burden."

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