Frontline on PTSD in soldiers

Caught a portion of the PBS Frontline show, The Wounded Platoon, documenting the extensive combat trauma in the 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry stationed in Fort Carson, CO. Click the above link to watch it on-line if you missed it.

It is heartbreaking and mind-boggling to consider that so many of these young men are now in jail or dead due to suicide. The PTSD is evident to all. The men admit to massive drug and alcohol addiction, trauma, domestic violence, etc. What is even more mind-boggling is the interviews with some of the platoon leaders–some of whom are quite matter of fact. Yes, they say, it is bad. But it is part of what we get. Too much demand for soldiers, too few to meet the demand. This equals spending longer rotations in theatre thus more PTSD.

They discuss the amount of psychiatric meds prescribed for these soldiers while in Iraq. While this means they are getting some treatment, others see this as merely allowing them to suffer more damage while still being able to fight the next day.

I’m thankful for my freedom in the US. But never forget the cost. And do remember that few of these men get any decent treatment once they return.


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12 responses to “Frontline on PTSD in soldiers

  1. I agree that there are a lot of sad stories among the soldiers of the 1-506. However, I want to say that the full true story is rarely told in the media. And when providers are slandered (whether it be individually or collectively at a specific post or hospital), there is nothing we can do to defend ourselves due to patient privacy. I am an active duty psychologist in the Army (currently in Afghanistan since June 2009) providing the best possible care, including empirically-supported treatments, to soldiers out here fighting the war. Many, many of them will continue to receive top-notch care upon their return. Yes, some won’t, perhaps because of stigma issues or because they somehow slip through the cracks (although they have received extensive screening already with only more to come after we go back to the States). And yes, the Army has a lot of room to grown in terms of its continued efforts to improve mental health services for its soldiers. But to say that “few of these men get any decent treatment once they return” is a slap in the face of those of us out here (at times risking our own lives) providing decent treatment to these men and women.

    • Katie, you misunderstand the full meaning of my words. I probably wasn’t clear and take responsibility for that. The evidence is pretty well established that few soldiers present themselves for treatment and many on active duty are encouraged to “get back out there” by leadership even if not by the mental health providers. The fact is that these “some” who slip through the cracks are actually many. Now, as a psychologist who has worked with Vets after leaving the military, I can state that many did not receive help from military psychologists. Many were seen only by psychiatrists and not encouraged to see a psychologist. They had no access to prolonged exposure treatments (see earlier post) and so did not receive decent care at their VAs. They were medicated to the gills but not given the treatments that can really help. I don’t doubt that the military psychologists are doing great work. There just aren’t enough of them. And leadership who cry that PTSD is just part of the expectations of war and don’t take care of their most wounded ought to rethink their positions.

      • Kathryn

        I just found this website, and found this article and comments, etc, worth it.

        As a lay person engaged to a man who is currently in theater among with many many friends who have the added mental stress of being Reservists and expected to mentally jump from military and civilian mindsets, I have observed and listened to commentary on some of the post deployment screenings. The stigma of mental illness runs so strong throughout the reservist ranks I know, that many of these young men have purposefully responded “correctly” to screenings, so as not to ever have the label….lying about what is really going. The reason given by one friend was denial of what he was actual going through (which was obvious to those close to him who could see warning patterns), then acknowledgment, and then out of a sense of heroism….of letting those who he believed were more affected by the war to be the ones who receive the military’s resources for help.

        Problem is, unless someone admits an issue, they’re not going to come forward to get it taken up.

  2. D. Stevenson

    Is PTSD something where you will always have at least an element remaining? Or can it be totally overcome?

    • Good question. The short answer is yes. Now, that does not mean the person always has major symptoms. But PTSD, like all anxiety disorders, often has ongoing symptoms. Clients who want to know if their OCD will go away. I answer honestly that if going away means they never have any symptoms, then no, it won’t. If OCD going away means being able to flourish and only sometimes having to contend with symptoms, then the answer is yes. If the question is whether or not the person will always meet criteria for PTSD, then the answer is no. They may well be able to have healing that leads to no diagnosis. But probably not healing that leads to no symptoms whatsoever.

      Sometimes someone gets something rather miraculous–the complete cessation of mental health symptoms (absolutely no cravings, no depressing thoughts, no anxious thoughts). Most often, we learn to cope with and chip away at these symptoms. I especially like the ending of “A Beautiful Mind” as illustration of this point. The movie may not be accurate to his real life but you see that at the end he still sees the little girl (part of his psychosis) but he no longer engages her in conversation. She’s on the other side of the room, like a fading memory. He could re-engage her but chooses not to. That is like how many of us are healed in this life.

      • janz2010

        I have a loved one still enlisted in the Army who suffers various symptoms of PTSD but is too close to retirement to risk any,” on the record,” disclosure, etc. Are there any Christian/Bible based books written that truly address PTSD symptoms that provide psychological steps to healing combined with Spiritual/Biblical applications as well? Also is there material for the partner of a PTSD victim that can quide them in key points of understanding to know when to ask, listen, or respond to various triggers, etc. Thousands of us on the other side of this coin suffer in silence for the loved one who carries this burden like an emotional ruck-sack.

      • Here is one significant resource: Campus Crusade’s Military Ministry. Contact them. It is headed by a former General and is based in the Newport News, VA area. However, they have resources you would find very helpful. Here’s one link ( but google them and you will find several others. They address the issues of when “war comes home.” You might also look into military resources sold at I’ve watched at least one DVD (with General Dees of Military Ministry on the AACC DVD) where they were interviewing a man and his wife where he had serious PTSD after Vietnam.

        Blessings on you as you do, as a spouse, walk a road that is very difficult.

  3. danakx

    I agree, Phil. I came out of an abusive marriage, and probably do not have enough PTSD symptoms at this point for a diagnosis. But I do still have symptoms. I’ve gotten a lot better at recognizing what is going on, and I find that walking through individual triggers, when they happen (which is much less frequently these days), is a much quicker process. But it still has to be walked through every single time. My triggers don’t consume me or take up a major part of my life anymore. They aren’t disruptive and don’t keep me from functioning more or less normally. I can’t imagine that I will ever be totally symptom free. It might be possible, but really, I’m very happy to have made such progress and to be in safe place, with safe relationships, where I have received healing from past trauma, and where I’m allowed to be me, without complete healing being a requisite for anything.

  4. Pingback: The Helpfulness of Depression « Run-In With Burnout

  5. zeppelin

    I’m thankful for my freedom in the US. But never forget the cost.

    This has nothing to do with our freedom. The soldiers know this.

  6. Jamie

    Do you remember the guy who was interviewed in this report about what was happening to our soldiers? His name is Robert Alvarez, and he is a friend of mine. He spoke volumes about the “truth” behind what was happening to our soldiers. Well, he was fired for his statements on the “wounded platoon.” The Army pressured wounded warriors to get rid of him after he spoke up. He now works for give an hour.

  7. “Frontline” and other PBS as well as NPR shows have certainly given us some of the most honest information about what our military members and reservists–as well as their families–have suffered as a result of their tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. It worries me that some seek to cut all these stations’ funding—as a means to make needed national budget cuts. Personally, I also fear that this may be a means by which some hope to get rid of a couple of the few remaining sources of such information—which can prove embarrassing to those in positions of power, certainly. As a boomer who watched the Vietnam War unfold every night on the evening news at dinnertime, it is easy to understand why today, so many are unaware of the sacrifices others are making whereas, back then, so many of us were out protesting. That said, it is in part because I was raised in that era, as well as my work with the military earlier in this decade as a clinical social worker overseas, that I decided to write the self-help book, “The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Relationship: How to Support Your Partner and Keep Your Relationship Healthy.” Indeed, as much as I regretted the necessity for such a book, I realized that there would be many couples in need of knowing how to better cope after the unwelcome guest of PTSD entered their relationship. I am grateful that the book, released in 2009, was designated as one of the “BEST BOOKS OF 2009” by the “Library Journal” and is also now on a reading list at the Army War College–labeled “resilience.” I certainly hope that, as a result of these things, more people become aware of the book and are helped by it. And do check out another source mentioned in a previous post which I also talk about in my book: “Give an Hour.” I have had warriors wounded by PTSD and their spouses tell me what great help they received via partaking of these services donated by therapists. And of course, I wish the best to all of you who are dealing with this challenge.

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