WASHINGTON – Former Sen. Max Cleland, who has battled bouts of depression since losing an arm and both legs in Vietnam, is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cleland, who represented Georgia in the Senate from 1997 to 2003, said he believes the condition — cases of which are increasing rapidly among Vietnam war veterans — was in part triggered by the ongoing violence in Iraq.
"I realize my symptoms are avoidance, not wanting to connect with anything dealing with the (Iraq) war, tremendous sadness over the casualties that are taken, a real identification with that. ... I've tried to disconnect and disassociate from the media. I don't watch it as much. I'm not engrossed in it like I was," Cleland said in an interview with WSB-TV in Atlanta.
He said he feels depressed, has developed a sense of hyper-vigilance about his security and has difficulty sleeping, the television station reported.
Cleland declined to discuss the matter with The Associated Press. An aide confirmed the diagnosis but said the former lawmaker is feeling better than he has in a long time.
The aide, Michael Duga, declined to say when Cleland's treatments started, although he said the disease is often intertwined with other illnesses such as depression, which Cleland has been open about confronting.
"This is not a new thing," Duga said. "He's happy and he's healthy and he's continuing with his counseling."
Cleland is receiving treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, Duga said. He said Cleland acknowledged his condition to encourage other veterans to seek help if they feel sick.
The Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general reported last year that the number of post-traumatic stress disorder cases has increased dramatically in recent years, from 120,265 in 1999 to 215,871 in 2004.
A former VA administrator under President Jimmy Carter, Cleland has been highly critical of the Bush administration's funding for the agency. The Democrat also is a vocal critic of the Iraq war and is traveling the country to help Democrats campaign for office. He aggressively campaigned for Democrat Sen. John Kerry, a fellow Vietnam veteran, in the 2004 presidential election.
Cleland lost his Senate seat after one term in 2002 to Republican Saxby Chambliss.