I’ve been meaning for some time to do a regular round-up of articles on PTSD that show up in Google News. Ive been put off by the combination of annoyance and depression they usually evoke, but I’m shaking that off today, and getting to work. So here we go….
Shoosmiths’s Access Legal (a site that advertises legal services to soldiers, so I’m not sure how it’s Google “news”) features a piece on the Bundeswehr’s decision to give psychological tests to recruits, in an attempt to “prevent” PTSD. Working backwards from a study that showed that most soldiers who suffer from PTSD after combat also survived traumatic experiences before combat, the German Defense Ministry has adopted the suggestion of Prof. Dr. Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, a professor of clinical psychology at Dresden Technical University. The theory seems to be that if they send fewer traumatized soldiers into battle, then they’ll get fewer traumatized soldiers after battle. Good luck with that, I say. The study referenced in the article is probably this one, published in September 2012. A study of inpatients in a German Army hospital, it found that in about 40% of patients, there was evidence that psychological trauma pre-existed military service. Not very surprising, really, since the same study admits that in the U.S. general population, some 61% of adults had been exposed to traumatic events, and a German study showed that 26% of men had been exposed to trauma, so that means the estimate of 40% of Bundeswahr vets with pre-military service trauma is not nearly as far off the average as the news report would have it seem. The study is worth reading, though the sample was small and skewed heavily towards inpatients. As for the Bundeswahr’s decsion, it could have some interesting results. Since we know that compounded trauma results in more cases of PTSD severe enough to impair function, it could be that screening out “pre-traumatized” soldiers will reduce the severity of PTSD, if not its incidence. This could be practical in Germany, where there’s a universal draft and the number of soldiers sent into combat is very small in comparison to the number of soldiers who serve. A screening program like this would never work in the U.S., though, since the population most likely to enlist is most likely to be pre-traumatized by the various oppressions endemic in U.S. culture/society. Pre-screening U.S. army recruits might mean rejecting over 60% of applicants on those grounds alone. At any rate, pre-screening may not be very effective for troops repeatedly exposed to combat, or exposed to moderate threat to life over long periods of time, since that trauma also compounds.
Australia has a new $2.5 million MRI facility that will be used to scan the brains of Australian and American soldiers in an attempt to “follow how the brain is healing and recovering.” This looks like ABC News pulled it directly from an institutional press release. Yay, more pictures of the brain! I guess I should be happy at this “cutting edge research,” except that we already have a whole helluva lot of pictures of the brain that haven’t told us much about what’s going on inside people’s heads. If you read the story, the main point of all this scanning is to generate interest in scanning so that more people will want to be scanned.
And as if I weren’t already disappointed enough in President Obama, like his predecessors he’s emphasizing as-yet-nonexistent cures over real preventive measures. Though the fact sheet of the “National Research action Plan for Improving Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members, and Military Families,” is going to throw (away) $107 million on creepy projects like discovering and developing “biomarkers” to prevent, detect and treat PTSD, and a nifty new classification system for traumatic brain injury (TBI), I see a whole lot of nothing aimed at violence prevention. On the other hand, Obama never misses an opportunity to collect data, so of course there are ear-markers for data-sharing across agencies, service branches and scientists. Our soldiers can look forward to more decades of playing guinea pig for big pharma and the military, after they’ve been ground through the combat mill. Shared information would include the Pentagon’s giant blood serum bank, dating back 28 years, and containing samples kept in perpetuity. The military has banked 55.5 million samples from 10 million individuals, including millions of samples from the family members of soldiers and from civilians who applied for but did not enter the military.
Laurie Halse Anderson has written a new book about second generation trauma of war and having a vet with PTSD in the family. It’s called The Impossible Knife of Memory. Fifteen years ago Anderson also wrote Speak, about a rape victim. There’s an interview with the author in USA Today. I haven’t read any of these books, but now they’re on my list. I’ll post reviews when I’m done.
Following in the footsteps of many activists, including other veterans, who have walked outrageous distances to try and raise public awareness about their plight, Iraq war vets Anthony Andersonn and Tom Voss are going to trek from Milwaukee to L.A. Their goal is to raise money for Dryhootch, an organization that provides support for vets. Both Andersonn and Voss say they suffer from PTSD after serving in Iraq for five years. Dryhootch was founded by Robert Curry, a veteran of the Vietnam war (and Laos, he says) whom Obama honored as a “Champion of Change.” Andersonn and Voss crowdfunded their walk, and Dryhootch is operating with a “grassroots” online model designed with expansion in mind. In fact, Curry was given a Social Innovator award. But unlike the grassroots organizations of Vietnam Vets Against the War in the late 1960s and 1970s, though, it’s hard to find a shred of politics in any of their material. It’s as if the production of “wounded warriors” has nothing to do with the war itself. You’d think they just grew on trees or something. Another vet, Cpt. Medric Cousineau of the Canadian Armed Froces, is also walking. He wants to raise money to pay for PTSD service dogs. Cpt. Cousineau’s route heads through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario and he’ll be on the road for a month-and-a-half.
But don’t despair, because in Michigan, those with PTSD may soon qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions. If you can’t prevent the violence and unbearable conditions that create PTSD, at least you can let people get stoned afterwards. And though there’s no proof that marijuana actually helps people with PTSD, it’s certainly better for you than the raft of psychopharmaceuticals for which the medical establishment is so ready write scrips.
In the Everyday Surrealism Department, we feature Ryan Culberson wigging out on the season 8 finale of Real Housewives of Orange County. Given the unreality of anything passing for “reality TV,” it’s always tough to say what’s staged and what’s not. There’s no point even uttering the word “ethics” and the phrase “reality TV” in the same sentence, so let’s set aside the fact that Culberson is, even as I type, in Afghanistan again after serving there in 2005, 2008, and 2011, and that he took a break from combat deployments in order to humiliate himself in front of a national audience for money. I don’t want to talk about Culberson. I want to mention Dr. Mark Lerner, of The Institute for Traumatic Stress, Inc, who is apparently happy to give interviews about the “reality” of Culberson’s “traumatic stress reaction.” Although Lerner emphasizes that one can’t make diagnosis over the boob tube, what he is saying (if he’s quoted correctly, which is a big “if”) is that abusive behavior like Culberson demonstrated (whether authentic or acted) is “a normal reaction to the abnormal events that he’s experienced.” “Normalizing” abuse is hardly at the top of my To-Do list. Lerner, however, makes a living on it, as you can see at his Institute, a certification mill for crisis management that draws on “the same principles being utilized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” His claim is that his training program can “prevent acute stress reactions from becoming chronic and debilitating stress disorders.” Since there’s no clear evidence that any sort of training can prevent PTSD, I’m more than a little dubious.