The hidden casualties

Our view: Treating traumatic stress should be a priority

June 01, 2008

Until recently, America's combat casualties seemed easy to count. Most came home with visible infirmities. Now, it's apparent there has been a much larger toll, a hidden army of casualties with post-traumatic stress disorder. Last week Pentagon officials reported 115 Army suicides last year, the highest rate on record. They revealed the number of troops diagnosed with PTSD jumped by 50 percent and expressed concern that that the nearly 40,000 stricken soldiers were only a small fraction of the malady's victims.

They also confessed that they lacked hundreds of health care professionals needed to deal with this growing plague, a deficiency that America's medical establishment should help address.

If symptoms of PTSD are often masked and less visible than the devastating wounds of amputees, consider the effects. Victims feel constantly under threat, experiencing nightmares or compulsive thoughts in which they relive the horrors of losing comrades or being wounded in combat. They grow emotionally numb, damaging their relationships with loved ones.

If the victim count is unknown and the cure uncertain, the cause is painfully apparent. With President Bush's buildup of forces in Iraq last year, more soldiers were exposed to repeated combat tours. An extension of deployments to 15 months from 12 months increased the strain. The Pentagon is ending the longer tours, but for many the damage is already done. Now, military leaders owe it to their troops and the nation to identify and treat as many victims as possible and to take whatever steps are necessary to provide troops with the psychological and medical care they need. Limiting the number of tours or expanding the periods between them would help. These battle scars won't easily heal.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.