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Veterans seeking help for stress disorders

Marine Capt. Michael Schoenfeld can understand why the Veterans Affairs hospital is treating more combat veterans for stress disorders.

Schoenfeld was training in the foothills of Salt Lake County a week ago when he happen to spot a white flag on a nearby golf course.

His thoughts flashed back to Iraq, when insurgents hoisting a surrender flag and using innocent civilians as a shield opened fire on his company.

Schoenfeld is among 200 reservists in Fox Company who fought their way across Iraq into Baghdad, where they ran into stiff resistance at the Republican Guard headquarters.

"Whenever you go into a hostile environment, you're going to have some degree of post-traumatic stress," Schoenfeld said.

Schoenfeld, 36, credits his 18 years of military training and religious beliefs for helping him avoid more acute stress.

In Utah, 482 combat veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and other recent conflicts have sought treatment at the VA Health Care System, mostly for mental health problems and broken bones. All but 54 of those veterans have been discharged from the military, said facility spokeswoman Susan Huff.

One in eight U.S. troops returning from Iraq have reported stress disorders, said Harold Kudler, a psychiatrist at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, who conducted a study published in the July issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Symptoms can include combat flashbacks, sleeping and concentration problems, nightmares and a feeling of helplessness, he said.

The VA provides free mental health and medical care to veterans, including National Guard and reservists, for two years after discharge from active duty.