This is just tragic. We send our young men and women off to fight a war, and then refuse to treat their very real mental health symptoms. When are we going to learn that war ravages the brain, and that you have to treat PTSD just as seriously as you would an injury to the body:
Soldier Tyler Jennings says that when he came home from Iraq last year, he felt so depressed and desperate that he decided to kill himself. Late one night in the middle of May, his wife was out of town, and he felt more scared than he'd felt in gunfights in Iraq. Jennings says he opened the window, tied a noose around his neck and started drinking vodka, "trying to get drunk enough to either slip or just make that decision."
Five months before, Jennings had gone to the medical center at Ft. Carson, where a staff member typed up his symptoms: "Crying spells... hopelessness... helplessness... worthlessness." Jennings says that when the sergeants who ran his platoon found out he was having a breakdown and taking drugs, they started to haze him. He decided to attempt suicide when they said that they would eject him from the Army.
"You know, there were many times I've told my wife -- in just a state of panic, and just being so upset -- that I really wished I just died over there [in Iraq]," he said. "Cause if you just die over there, everyone writes you off as a hero."
But Private Jennings wasn't the only one. The problem is endemic:
For instance, soldiers fill out questionnaires when they return from Iraq that are supposed to warn officials if they might be getting depressed, or suffering from PTSD, or abusing alcohol or drugs. But many soldiers at Ft. Carson say that even though they acknowledged on the questionnaires that they were having disturbing symptoms, nobody at the base followed up to make sure they got appropriate support. A study by the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, suggests it's a national problem: GAO found that about 80 percent of the soldiers who showed potential signs of PTSD were not referred for mental health follow-ups.
Various studies have now documented the very real psychological effects of war. The most convincing paper appeared in JAMA late this summer, and demonstrated that "soldiers recently returned from duty in Iraq were highly likely to show subtle lapses in memory and in ability to focus, a deficit that often persisted for more than two months after they arrived home." These findings are consistent with our current models of stress, which predict that chronic stress (of the sort found in Baghdad) will damage the hippocampus, a part of the brain essential for learning and memory. Stress is poison for the brain, and nothing is more stressful than war.
I caught part of this on the drive home from work last night. Awful stuff.