Monday, March 1, 2010

PTSD and Consequences for Soldiers

There are so many interesting news stories that can be covered in the Afghanistan Project. And a recent news story that really caught my eye was from the Al Jazeera website, an interview with psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen. Al Jazeera’s interview with Van Dahlen, the war within: PTSD in the military aired February 4, 2010 and claims that out of two million US soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, psychiatrists estimate that one may, at some point, develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I chose this story because when I watch the news, I usually find personal stories more meaningful than more expansive news stories. Statistics are important to me, but I feel more empathy when learning about individual soldiers. Likewise, I have a family member in Kuwait at this very moment and I can really sympathize with these personal stories about the war. The Al Jazeera piece explaining PTSD also supplied a link to Nicholas Horner’s story, Iraq Vet in Pennsylvania Murders Was Radically Changed by War and PTSD” published by the Salem News in April 2009.

According to Van Dahlen, post-traumatic stress disorder causes people to be ‘on the alert’ because they fear there’s danger, since they have previously experienced trauma by an event they couldn’t control that was very physically threatening, disruptive, or dangerous; their brain is on ‘hyper alert’ for fear that another event will occur that they can’t control. PTSD is significantly affecting soldiers since there really is no frontline in this war, there are no safe zones; it’s difficult to tell who is foe. In the interview, Van Dahlen also told Al Jazeera that PTSD affects the whole family, not just the soldier and that suicide rates are also on the rise among soldiers. She said that soldiers become more anxious, agitated, and that they don’t perceive the world as safe anymore. They feel frightened, threatened, and their judgment is impaired, which puts them at a higher risk for impulsive acts. After viewing this interview, I could perceive Van Dahlen and Al Jazeera’s real concern with PTSD. I sympathize with Al Jazeera for exposing this disorder that affects so many soldiers. Before reading this, I had no idea the extent to which it was affecting our soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan; I’ve heard all my life about soldiers with this condition from serving in the Civil War and Vietnam especially, but I wasn’t aware of how much its affecting our soldiers today.

Van Dahlen’s interview with Al Jazeera on PTSD brings me to my next issue,

Nicholas Horner, an Iraq war veteran charged with murdering two people. In April 2009, Nicholas Horner returned home from on medical leave from the army. While he was home, he shot three people in Pennsylvania as he had a ‘flashback’ and identified his victims as ‘threats’. Two of the three victims died and Horner faced criminal homicide charges. In a video report from WINK TV located in Pennsylvania, Horner’s family noted that Nicholas ‘changed’ after he was sent back from his third deployment and they thought he suffered from PTSD. Unfortunately, when browsing the Internet I wasn’t able to find much follow-up information about the outcomes of this situation, leading me to think that Horner’s case may still be in progress.

However, Al Jazeera’s interview and Nicholas Horner’s story imply that PTSD is prominent among soldiers and that it can have horrific effects such as suicide, homicide, or other impulsive behaviors. On a side note, PTSD has even been chronicled in a 2009 film, Brothers, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, and Tobey Maguire. Maguire plays the father of the family, Captain Sam Cahill; his experiences overseas caused him such emotional turmoil, that he had a difficult time readjusting to civilian life, and fear and paranoia began to manifest themselves in the form of jealousy for his brother's relationship with his wife.

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