West Virginia University psychology professor Joseph Scotti, lead researcher on the West Virginia Returning Soldiers Study, will provide testimony to the Senate VeteransAffairs Committee tomorrow (July 23). Scotti will speak on mental health issues and service access for soldiers and veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The study, sponsored by the West Virginia Legislature and contracted to WVU last fall, includes information from approximately 1,000 veterans.

Mental health and service-access issues are considered most prevalent among rural veterans and those serving in the National Guard and Reserves. Forty-seven percent of veterans who participated in the study indicated symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder and/or depression.

The study also showed that veterans from the states rural counties experienced greater combat exposure than those from urban counties. Rural vets in the study reported combat duty at a rate of 71 percent compared with 39 percent of urban vets.

We knew that we would find some problems, but were concerned that the numbers are this high,Scotti said.As a nation, we need to do all we can to honor and thank our vets. Giving them a voice for their message is just one small way we can help. Im honored to be asked to testify and tell West Virginias story.

Exposure among members of the National Guard and Reserves to combat and related war-zone stressors equaled that of active duty personnel, the study also showed.

Many vets reported that theyre aware of services available to them, but their actual use of these services is very low,said Hilda Heady, WVU associate vice president for rural health.

Most veterans use informal systems of care. They seek out family, fellow veterans, friends, pastors and others, demonstrating a need for training in rural areas, according to Heady.

For the past 18 years, Scottis service, teaching and research has centered on posttraumatic stress disorder. His work covers a range of populations, including combat veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and current conflicts.

Scotti hopes his research on veterans of recent conflicts will help the West Virginia National Guard Family Assistance Center provide mental health services to military service personnel and their families.

Others at WVU who participated in the study include members of the Division of Social Work, the Robert C. Byrd Health Science Centers Office of Rural Health and the Department of Counseling Psychology.