Yesterday’s New York Times has an article about high rates of violence among soldiers returning from Iraq. The article states that “Nine current or former members of Fort Carson’s Fourth Brigade Combat Team have killed someone or were charged with killings in the last three years after returning from Iraq.” In an article last January, the Times identified 121 instances in which returning veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan had committed murder. Numerous other instances of assault and rape have occurred.
After much prodding from Senator Ken Salazar, the Army is investigating the problem.
Major General Mark Graham, who is the commader of For Carson said they are “looking for a trend, something that happened through their life cycle that might have contributed to this, something we could have seen coming.”
It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. After all that behavioral scientists have learned about post-tramatic stress disorder (PTSD) from treating veterans of the Vietnam War, it should have been obvious to the Pentagon that a sizable proportion of soldiers exposed to the extreme and unpredictable danger would react as they have. Those 130 murder victims are just as much casulties of the war as the 4,221 soldiers who died in Iraq.
Trauma changes people. It changes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis so that people are hypervigilant and misread innocous events as dangerous.
I have been unable to find studies of the incidence of PTSD among Iraq veterans that are more recent than 2004. That study found that 30% of veterans had symptoms of PTSD or depression.
Thus, among the many other consquences of the war in Iraq that the Bush Administration did not consider was the proportion of military people–and their friends and families–who would suffer as a result of PTSD. Many angry, frightened, and aggressive people will be living in this country for many years. They will have great difficulty in providing nurturing environments for their loved ones.
I hope the day will come, when the psychological impact on our soldiers will be one of the consequences we consider before we so blithely send them off to war.