Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Soldiering Psychs UPDATED

One of the biggest long term consequences of the Iraqi war is the impact on soldiers who come home. Whether you think the war is right or wrong, there's no denying it's traumatic impact on the soldiers. This impact is particularly devastating in an popular insurgency, where the enemy is everywhere. Now it turns out that the trauma inflicted on soldiers is being exacerbated by lousy treatment. This via Slate:
...the WSJ chimes in with a front-page report on how military therapists in Iraq are dealing with soldiers' trauma. The goal, says one Army psychiatrist, is to "put a lid" on the soldiers' symptoms so that they can continue to perform their duties. The Journal notes that even troops exhibiting signs of trauma will likely be asked to return to the war zone. "There are a lot of ethical questions about it," says the quoted Army psychiatrist. TP sure agrees with that assessment, but the Journal doesn't dwell on it.
Put a lid on it? Anyone with any remote knowledge of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) knows that "putting a lid on it" is extremely dangerous. It's the emotional equivalent of continuing to heat a pressure cooker beyond it's capability resulting in an explosion. Soldiers not being treated and being returned to the environment causing the stress will eventually blow. "Lid" treatment simply makes it much more likely that the ultimate emotional expression will not be pretty.

But, alas, the military really has no other apparent choice. Sy Hersh:
“The people in the institutional Army feel they don’t have the luxury of deciding troop levels, or even participating in the debate. They’re planning on staying the course until 2009. I can’t believe the Army thinks that it will happen, because there’s no sustained drive to increase the size of the regular Army.” O’Hanlon noted that “if the President decides to stay the present course in Iraq some troops would be compelled to serve fourth and fifth tours of combat by 2007 and 2008, which could have serious consequences for morale and competency levels.”
Recruiters are doing all they can due to shrinking volunteers, including this via the Army Times
They’ve been there, done that — but the Army wants to know if they’ll do it again.

In the increasingly tough struggle to fill its ranks, the Army is contacting nearly 78,000 prior-service soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines — including about 7,000 former officers — to see if they might be interested in returning to active duty in Army green.


The Army is offering bonuses of between $5,000 and $19,000 to those willing to come back and also is loosening regulations that had required service members to re-enlist in their previous chosen career fields and accept lesser ranks to come back, Steed said.

It’s the latest effort by the Army to overcome recruiting woes that have steadily worsened as the Iraq war has gone on. The active Army, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard all fell short of their annual recruiting goals for fiscal 2005 — the active Army by 8 percentage points.
Anyone who is anything but a thrill seeker is staying away. Again, Sy Hersh:
For example, Murtha reported that the number of attacks in Iraq has increased from a hundred and fifty a week to more than seven hundred a week in the past year. He said that an estimated fifty thousand American soldiers will suffer “from what I call battle fatigue” in the war, and he said that the Americans were seen as “the common enemy”
Remember. Murtha is no bleeding heart liberal. He's an old war hawk who is best buddies with the Pentagon. Sy Hersh, in his interview with Amy Goodman thinks Murtha is underestimating:
But my friends inside the V.A. tell me that as of late June or early July, there had been about, oh, 900,000-950,000 American soldiers, men and women that have gone to war since March or April of ’03, by July of ’05, two years and three or four months later, over 104,000 had come into the V.A. looking for help. Once they returned, rotated home, come back to V.A. hospitals, a staggering statistic. You know, you can’t -- we talk about torture. And one of the things to remember about mistreating people is, you know -- this isn't cynical, but I really do mean it -- you know, the people that do the mistreatment end up being as much victims as the people they mistreat. They come home with a lot of lot of bad baggage.
Hersh's final point can't be over emphasized. It's a well known phenomena that those who abuse are also traumatized dramatically by the experience.

So let's summarize. In Iraq, American soldiers face life and death threats from everywhere. They are participating in urban warfare that results in the killing of innocents. Some participate in torture of civilians to acquire information or out of sadism. Thus far some officials report a staggering 10% of all soldiers in the Iraqi theatre, a population not known for seeking treatment, as seeking treatment upon returning home. In the meantime, field treatment further traumatizes soldiers with a "put a lid on it" treatment plan. The military is desperately trying to find recruits with few takers and with no end in sight.

We will be suffering from the Iraqi war for generations.

UPDATED: Murtha released this comment:
LATROBE, Pa. - Most U.S. troops will leave
Iraq within a year because the Army is "broken, worn out" and "living hand to mouth," Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record) told a civic group.
The reason Murtha's words are so significant is because he is a proxy for the real Pentagon position (not Rummy's). His connections with the military are long and solid. If he says it, you can count on it being representative of the genuine military situation.


At 1:06 PM, Blogger Lynne said...

Wow, good post.
Did you have to treat any soldiers for pstd?

At 2:36 PM, Blogger Greyhair said...

Yes. I had several Vietnam vets with significant PTSD ..... and who had it for years. I used to specialize in treatment of trauma of all types.


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