An estimated 20 percent of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the condition is one of the greatest health concerns among the servicemember population. As a result, medical experts have been going to great lengths to understand the condition as much as possible, and recent research suggests that a soldier's pre-war experiences may play a role in whether they develop PTSD later on.

The study
Conducted by scientists from Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, the study looked at the mental health of 260 servicemembers who participated in the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. To assess the severity of the disorder in each subject, researchers looked at the severity of their combat exposure, their pre-war psychological vulnerabilities and whether they had any involvement in civilian casualties.

Not surprisingly, exposure to stressful situations in combat was a constant in 98 percent of those with PTSD. However, researchers also discovered that only about 31.6 percent of troops in stressful combat developed PTSD. Furthermore, they noticed a distinct correlation between pre-war psychiatric issues and the development of PTSD after combat. 

What the findings mean
The results shed some light on the
often-mysterious realm of PTSD, and could help medical experts better understand the condition when they're treating soldiers. The researchers also found that pre-war factors play a role in the long-term persistence of the condition. Perhaps most significantly, this research could help identify soldiers who are particularly at risk for PTSD and keep them out of certain situations, such as instances where civilians may be injured or killed.

The latest stride in the fight
As more than a decade of war comes to a close, researchers have conducted a considerable amount of studies to find ways to reduce the symptoms of PTSD. Some of the most compelling evidence of an effective therapy comes from a recent study conducted by military scientists that suggests an injection known as a stellate ganglion block may be able to numb signals that cause PTSD symptoms, according to Time magazine. Still, while the results are encouraging, experts urge cautious optimism.

"It is clear that new methods of treatment for PTSD are desperately needed," Dr. Cameron Richie wrote in a press release. "Although psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy are effective for many who are willing to go through the treatment regimen, they are not effective for all."