Sunday, March 9, 2008

Post Traumatic Stress Hits Army Unit Hard

Alpha Company hit hard by post-traumatic stress disorder.
In all, 46 percent said they had been treated at clinics or hospitals.

“Those are big numbers,” one expert said.

By Tom Infield

The Alpha Company humvee is
destroyed on Smugglers Road.

Four guardsmen were killed and
the driver was thrown from the vehicle.

Of all the things that Alpha Company has had to struggle with
since it came home from Iraq, the most pervasive may be
post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Of the 126 veterans interviewed or surveyed by The Inquirer,
almost half- 46 percent - said they had been treated for PTSD,
most at VA hospitals and clinics in the region.

Alpha's rate of PTSD is higher than that of most U.S. troops who
served in Iraq or Afghanistan - partly, no doubt, as a result of its
being a frontline combat unit that lost six men.

Shelley M. MacDermid, a Purdue University professor who served
on a Defense Department mental-health task force last year, said
typical PTSD rates among returning veterans were about
14 percent.

"Those are big numbers," she said of The Inquirer's Alpha
findings. National Guard and Reserve units, in general, have
shown slightly higher PTSD rates than have regular Army units,
she said.

The Defense Department task force said this might be in part
because civilian-soldiers were separated after they returned home,
rather than staying together as units in which the members could
support one another.

Ira Katz, director of mental-health services for the Department of
Veterans Affairs, said that among the 300,000 or so veterans who
have been seen by the VA, about 20 percent have been diagnosed
with PTSD.

But he said that twice that number - about 40 percent - have had
some form of "mental condition." "That's not all that different from
your [46] percent," he said. Both MacDermid and Katz said that
PTSD had become a popular shorthand for all sorts of emotional
symptoms that veterans experience.

These may include depression and anxiety disorders, but not
rise to the level of PTSD.

Steven Silver, who recently retired as director of the inpatient PTSD
unit at the Coatesville VA hospital, predicted that as time went on,
more and more combat veterans would be shown to have the high
PTSD rate that the National Guard Company Alpha now shows.

PTSD, as a term, has been used only since 1980.
(An after study of Vietnam Veteran's). World War II soldiers talked
of battle fatigue. In World War I, it was shell shock.

Silver said that both the military and the VA had become more
aggressive in warning troops about PTSD and getting them
treatment. He said that although "Alpha's" rate was high, "in some
ways, it's good news. It means that people are coming in for

PTSD typically is treated with psychotherapy and
antidepressant drugs, including Zoloft and Paxil, Sertraline
and or Bupropion. About two-thirds of Alpha veterans have received
care at VA hospitals and clinics - for PTSD, physical ailments, or both.

Of those who expressed an opinion, 57 said they were satisfied with
VA care and 19 said they were not.

Contact staff writer Tom Infield at 610-313-8205 or
The VA has set up a 24-hour suicide hotline for
round-the-clock access to mental health professionals.
The number is 1-800-273-TALK.
To learn more about PTSD-- visit the National Center for PTSD website.
Private Battle, Part 1
Private Battle, Part 2
Flashback, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide,
and the Lessons of WAR by Penny Coleman and--->

I Can Still Hear Thier Cries, Even In My Sleep...
A Journey Into PTSD By E. Everett McFall
Both Books are Available on