Doctored: PTSD…it’s all in your head. Not.


Last week, the Defense Dept. decided not to award purple hearts to vets who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). This is probably because they can’t make the medals fast enough—close to 20% of returning troops suffer some sort of PTSD.

The Pentagon determined that “current medical knowledge and technologies do not establish PTSD as objectively and routinely as would be required for this award at this time.” Terri Tanielian of RAND, the non-profit research organization behind the 2008 study, disagrees, insisting this is a “major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Symptoms range from the annoying (bad mood, headaches) to the truly dangerous. Consequences include:

1. Stealing Things
Former Army captain and West Point grad Sargent Binkley was found not guilty on Tuesday of robbing a local pharmacy, by reason of insanity. Dr. Tom Berger of Vietnam Veterans of America said, “It’s great news he’s getting treatment…PTSD shouldn’t be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card, but…their problems need to be addressed.”

2. Murdering Your Loved Ones
Colorado’s Fort Carson has seen nine members of its Fourth Brigade Combat team accused of murder since returning from Iraq, five of them in the last three years. “The leadership has to say, Why did that occur, what happened, what is causing this difference in behavior?” Signs point to PTSD, says former army prosecutor Vivian H. Gembara. “You can’t just point all of them out as bad apples… Was it something in Iraq? Were they in a lot of heavy combat? If so, the command needs to pay more attention to that.”

3. Killing Yourself
At least 200 soldiers have taken their own lives while serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The parents of one, Jason Scheuerman, believe that the Army’s reluctance to acknowledge PTSD is to blame. When Jason sought help a few months after being deployed in late 2004, the psychologist assigned to his unit said he was faking it. Two days later, he shot himself. His case caused outcry from vet groups and forced the army to reevaluate how mental health professionals are assigned—like, now they need to be actually certified. Jason’s dad says “There is a direct correlation between his [the flippant diagnosis] and the events that led up to my son’s death.”

Good news is on the way, maybe. On his pre-inaugural tour of the country, Obama has brought along Matt Kuntz, an advocate for vets with PTSD, signaling that his administration might take this all more seriously. Otherwise, maybe we should all chip in to buy the troops the game of Tetris, which British researchers recently determined helps erase memory of traumatic events.


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