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Professional News
To Be Effective, PTSD Education Must Focus on ‘Real Soldiers’
Psychiatric News
Volume 46 Number 11 page 4-4

Something was missing the sergeants told the Institute of Medicine committee assessing treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Institute of Medicine panel had listened for two hours to the researchers and clinicians and heard reams of statistics.

"But where are the living breathing human beings?" asked U.S. Marine Sgt. Scott Redhead.

Well, two of them were facing the panel at that moment.

Redhead went into Falluja after fellow Marines spent weeks in house-to-house fighting to take the Iraqi city.

"Nothing prepares you for the trauma of a ravaged city; it still haunts me," he told the panel. "Then the Marine Crops threw Ramadi at me."

His unit lost 13 men in the fighting there. For years he lived with the PTSD that arose after combat. He estimates that 3 out of 5 of his fellow Marines at Quantico Marine Base, where he is now an instructor, have the disorder.

Eventually, he spent three weeks at the Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC) at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., going through an intensive treatment program for patients with deployment-related stress, PTSD, or other difficulties readjusting to life after combat.

Army Sgt. Maj. Bernard Watson, a retired Anne Arundel County, Md., police officer, had seen violent death on the job, but three tours of duty in Iraq was another level of horror, even after many years as an Army reservist.

"It's like watching your child die every day," he said of his experience tracking down explosive devices. Watson, too, credited the DHCC with allowing him some semblance of a normal life back in his home in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. Still, he can't ride the local commuter train—€”a crowded, enclosed space that sets off alarms in his brain.

The upper ranks of the armed services may understand the psychological needs of troops after combat, but they need to push that perception down the company and platoon level, said Watson. "The doctor says you have a diagnosis, but your commander ignores that and tells you to get back to work," he said. "The military must decide whose decision it is."

To better prepare them for combat, Marines and soldiers don't need lectures on neuroscience, said Redhead. Dramatizing ways to show the negative outcomes of not seeking help would work better.

"You can't connect with a statistic," agreed Watson. "But if you talk about my soldier, my platoon, you can get through." 4_2.inline-graphic-1.gif

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