Friday, January 2, 2009

Treating the G.I.s

One of the better Iraq War movies to be released (although overall they're all pretty bad) was In the Valley of Elah, a film that used the detective murder-mystery format to explore the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder gone wrong in returned Iraq soldiers. The movie depicted soldiers who were willing to dismantle the body of their fellow soldier, and a young veteran who strangled his wife to death. The theme was revisited yesterday in the vacuum of New Year's Day reporting by a New York Times article that examined violent crimes committed by returning soldiers.

In particular, it focused on a military base in soon-to-be-Secretary-of-the-Interior Ken Salazar's state of Colorado. The article talks of nine cases murder by the base's soldiers, five in the last year alone. Add to that the overall national statistics of murder by veterans, suicides, rapes, and domestic violence and it's no wonder that people are concerned. The article didn't address if rates of violent crimes are higher among soldiers than they are among the general population, but my guess is they're probably not (although rates of suicide among former soldiers tend to be higher than among the general population). I'd like to see an analysis of this done so if you know of one, please, leave it in comments.

The key to investigating PTSD in soldiers is that what we figure out there might help us with other kinds of criminological and sociological work. If we can figure out what drives a person to suicide or murder when we know of a traumatic event like combat, it may help us treat and eventually prevent suicide, murder, rape, and domestic violence in the general population. After all, some of the prosthetic limb research done by the VA has lead to cutting-edge technology for others who lose their limbs in more everyday occurrences like car accidents. When we develop effective new treatments for veterans, everyone wins.

The reluctance is that treating PTSD is expensive, and there's no clear way for every person that's effective. Therapy is costly, especially for a population that largely comes from lower and middle classes who probably can't afford it on their own. But the more we begin to look at mental health treatment as part of the holistic health care we promise veterans, the more clues we unlock for preventing some of the most atrocious crimes known to humanity.

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