Last week, I addressed my alarm at the apparent apathy the national media and a large number of citizens are showing towards the return of military men and women from combat duty in Iraq. The response I received from veterans, family members of veterans and the families of servicemen and women still serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas was both welcome and appreciated. One note of appreciation I received regarding my previous column alerted me to the seemingly lackadaisical level of concern and effort the military is giving to the diagnosis and treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder, also commonly known as PTSD, in veterans coming home from tours of duty in the "War on Terror."
The Mayo Clinic describes PTSD as an anxiety disorder that is triggered by a traumatic event, which, though mental and psychological in its makeup, can cause severe and acute physical reactions and symptoms in addition to purely psychological ones. PTSD has been around for years and has been known by many names. Shellshock, battle fatigue and traumatic war neurosis are among the names that have, at some point, been used to describe this affliction, which affects many veterans who have participated in rather distressing events during their time of duty.
One would imagine that after extensive study on the subject, throughout a century that contained no less than five major wars, the military would have had ample time to ascertain exactly how this affliction attacks the minds and bodies of its soldiers and veterans and how exactly they should act to prevent or treat it. The evidence, however, shows that they may not be doing enough.
Consider, if you will, two separate, but equally related and troubling cases in which undiagnosed PTSD and/or ineffective treatment of the disorder has been thought to have played a part.
The first, as chronicled by Rolling Stone in its "Fort Carson Murder Spree" story, which appeared in its Nov. 12, 2009, issue, involved three soldiers in particular, who, after their return from Iraq, watched their PTSD cases go largely unaddressed and untreated. As a result of such apparent negligence, soldiers from Fort Carson, including, but not limited to, the three in question, have been implicated in no fewer than 11 murders. The three soldiers themselves would go on a drug-fueled crime spree that would leave dozens hurt and several killed.
The other, more famous case is that of the murder of Specialist Richard T. Davis, also a member of the Army. In July of 2003, Davis was murdered by four of his fellow soldiers after a night on the town near Fort Benning, Ga.
The four soldiers would later brutalize his remains, dismembering his body, saturating it with lighter fluid and burning it before returning later to hide it farther in the underbrush. The case gained national attention in 2004, during the duration of the trials of the four soldiers involved, and all received jail time for their roles in the killing, albeit for different lengths corresponding to their level of cooperation with authorities investigating the crime.
Many experts have alleged that several, if not all, of the soldiers involved, including the victim, may have been suffering from undiagnosed cases of PTSD. Such claims would later be published in the May 2004 issue of Playboy in "Death and Dishonor" and would be addressed in the film "In the Valley of Elah," which is loosely based on the events.
Unless the military addresses the issue with greater urgency of its own volition or is commanded to do so by the federal government, more suffering may be incurred by veterans, the families of veterans or innocent bystanders.
Unfortunately for the soldiers, they are unable to sue the military for damages from misdiagnosis or ineffective treatment because of the Feres Doctrine, which states that no active member of the military or veteran thereof can seek legal damages for injuries or ailments sustained during their time of duty or in Veterans' Administration hospitals. This leaves current and former servicemen and women to seek outside counseling, which many have to pay for out of their own pocket and possibly face the scrutiny of their peers.
Luckily there is hope. Several organizations, such as the Wounded Warrior Project, exist to ease the pain felt by injured veterans and assist them with their adjustment to civilian life. I implore you to seek more information at http://www.woundedwarriorproject.com or to seek out a similar charity organization to do what you can. As WWP's motto says, "the greatest casualty is being forgotten."
—Derek Mullins is a senior in political science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.