Attrition: Killing Is Stressful


November 28,2008: The U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) has found that those who had killed someone in combat were 40 percent more likely to show symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). or similar symptoms found in those who suffered concussions from roadside bombs. The VA is paying more attention to PTSD, as it expects to see a lot of in the next generation of veterans.

Never before has the U.S. Department of Defense had so many troops who have experienced so many days of combat, and that translates into more PTSD. In the past (Vietnam, World War II) casualties were several times higher. but combat was not as prolonged. Thus few troops lasted 200 or more days in combat. During World War II, it was found that 200 days was the average combat exposure a soldier suffered before starting to experience debilitating PTSD. But now the military, and the VA, are finding that some combat events can trigger more, or less, PTSD. Roadside bombs have, for example, caused soldiers problems because the blast can inflict mild concussion on troops who are not otherwise injured. Years later, those mini-concussions can cause mental problems.

The patterns of combat were different during World War II. For example, the bulk of the troops in Europe went in after June 6, 1944. The fighting in Europe ended eleven months later. In the Pacific, the fighting tended to be episodic. A few months of combat, followed by many months of preparing for the next island invasion or battle. In Vietnam, not a lot of people went back for multiple tours, and those who did spend a year with a combat unit, spent less time in combat than they would in Iraq. Even during Vietnam, it was noted that many of those who were in combat for 200 or more days, did get a little punchy.

In Iraq, army combat troops often get 200 days of combat in one 12 month tour, which is more than their grandfathers got during all of World War II. And some troops are returning for a third tour in Iraq, which is now fifteen months. The army has found ways to avoid the onset of PTSD (better accommodations, email contact with home, prompt treatment for PTSD), but many troops are headed for uncharted territory, and an unprecedented amount of time in combat. Thus the research, and new programs to spot PTSD as early as possible.




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