PTSD and Returning Veterans: A Cause of Murder?

One of the unfortunate consequences of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is that veterans are returning with traumatic brain injuries and psychological injuries in such numbers that it is forcing the military and America to learn more about the devastating consequences of these injuries.

The New York Times today reported that PTSD has been linked to more than 120 murders committed by returning veterans. The study was conducted based on examining news reports, and is not a study based on scientific data. The New York Times’ study showed an 89% increase in such episodes, from 184 cases to 349 cases, since the conflict in Afghanistan began in 2001. While the Pentagon questioned the methodology of the study, the newspaper said its study was conservative. “This reporting most likely uncovered only the minimum number of such cases, given that not all killings, especially in big cities and on military bases, are reported publicly or in detail.” The Pentagon does not track this type of data regarding its veterans.

The victims were mostly known to the veterans involved, including spouses, girlfiiends, children and family members, but their victims were also strangers. Unfortunately, the soldiers themselves became victims. Thirteen of the veterans took their own lives after the killings, and two more were fatally shot by the police. Several more attempted suicide or expressed a death wish.

The New York Times’ study showed that few of the veterans received anything other than a cursory mental health screening following their return from active duty. Many displayed symptoms of combat trauma in the interviews, but they were not evaluated for and did not receive a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder until after their arrests.

While there may be a debate about methodology, there can be no debate about the fact that America is now returning home in increasing numbers veterans who have survived these conflicts to face the life-ravaging consequences of traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and emotional trauma. America’s battlefield medicine has advanced to save many who would otherwise have perished. By the sheer numbers of those afflicted and greater cognizance of the disorders, more attention is being paid to the problem. To date, however, the military has demonstrated its inability to adequately identify and treat those affected. America’s soldiers should not have to face these conditions alone, as they are treatable conditions that can be ameliorated with rehabilitation, medications, and therapy. America failed its returning soldiers in the Vietnam era. Let us hope that she will not fail the soldiers who serve her now.

Source: New York Times, January 13, 2008.