Entries in PTSD (6)


Panetta on Military Suicides: 'We Can Do More, We Must Do More'

DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett(WASHINGTON) -- More active duty troops die from suicide than from combat, and the Pentagon chief is frustrated that efforts to prevent suicides are not succeeding.  And despite the Pentagon's efforts so far, suicides are going up among active duty troops – 25 percent higher just this spring.

Speaking at a conference on suicide prevention for service members, veterans and their families, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday called the uptick in suicides the "most frustrating challenge" of his position.

“We can do more, we must do more, and together we will do more to prevent suicides,” Panetta said, adding that “there are no easy answers here. There are no quick fixes. There are no simple solutions.”

The defense secretary said changes must start at the top. “Leaders throughout the department must make it understood that seeking help is a sign of strength not a sign of weakness,” Panetta said.

Panetta said the military now has 9,000 mental health professionals -- a one-third increase -- in hospitals, clinics, and even war zones.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Sgt. Robert Bales-PTSD Link at Odds With Research

US Army(NEW YORK) -- When Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was arrested last week for allegedly killing 16 men, women and children in Kandahar, Afghanistan, speculation swirled that post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, had caused him to snap.

The disorder, which plagues thousands of soldiers and veterans returning from combat, triggers episodes of intense anxiety, anger and disturbing behavioral changes. Bales' lawyers, led by John Henry Browne of Seattle, have reportedly considered that Bales suffered from PTSD, in addition to his history with a traumatic brain injury.

In truth, however, there's no evidence to indicate that people afflicted with the condition are more likely than anyone else to commit crimes and acts of mass violence. They are more inclined, instead, to turn their aggression on themselves and their families to devastating effect, research shows.

The knee-jerk linking of Bales and PTSD also exposes troops to prejudice that might discourage them from seeking the treatment they so desperately need, advocates say.

Army Capt. Ross Maybee, 30, a West Point graduate now serving at Fort Hood in Texas, believes the automatic linking of Bales' alleged rampage and PTSD is unfair. Maybee was diagnosed with PTSD after four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan left him with severe panic attacks, difficulty concentrating and an inability to complete assignments for his job. He said he doesn't buy the notion that the disorder caused Bales to commit the alleged crime.

"I feel they're using it as an excuse for other underlying behavioral problems," Maybee said of the allegations. "People with PTSD rarely experience actual violent outbursts like that."

Travis Martin, 27, of Richmond, Ky., is familiar with the disorder's undercurrents of anger and aggression. He was diagnosed with PTSD after two tours as an Army sergeant in Iraq, and underwent treatment to keep his aggression, violent dreams and heavy drinking at bay. He said he can't discount that PTSD played a possible role in the Kandahar killings.

"But I don't know for certain that it's a result of one condition," Martin said of the allegations. "I don't know if we can ever really know just what went through his head."

When shocking crimes are connected with soldiers who have endured the strain of combat, PTSD is often an automatic diagnosis for people searching for an explanation. But experts and survivors dispute the notion that PTSD turns soldiers into ticking time bombs.

"I really hate that people are going to think that," Martin, who's no longer in the military, said.

PTSD affects about 8 percent of men and 20 percent of women who have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives, according to the Veterans Administration. About 20 to 30 percent of the servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have the disorder. Nearly 100,000 of those veterans received treatment for PTSD at VA medical centers in 2011 alone.

There's no denying the troubling mental health consequences of PTSD and that it causes some sufferers to act out. Several studies have documented that people with PTSD are more likely to express anger and aggression, which for some turns into violence toward their partners, children or others.

Dr. Matthew Friedman, executive director of the National Center for PTSD in White River Junction, Vt., said it's a mistake to automatically attribute crimes like Bales' alleged killing spree to PTSD.

"I'm not saying that PTSD couldn't have been contributory, but the emphasis that PTSD and it alone can account for the event is just not borne out by the data," Friedman said.

Research suggests that people with PTSD are more likely to harm themselves. Soldiers and veterans have a much higher suicide rate than the general population, and the National Center for PTSD notes that studies have found that PTSD is strongly associated with suicidal thoughts or attempts, more so than other psychiatric conditions.

"Damage to individual veterans is so much greater than their damage to other people," said Dr. Joan Anzia, associate professor in psychiatry at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "As tragic as those killings [in Afghanistan] are, those are few and far between compared to what our soldiers, veterans and their families suffer."

The effects of PTSD are widespread and often devastating for people who suffer. But the condition is vastly underreported in the military. Of the servicemen and women who return from war with PTSD, only about half receive any kind of treatment. Many fear that a diagnosis will damage their career prospects or relationships with their comrades.

Some advocates worry that characterizing people with PTSD as violent potential criminals might further stigmatize the disorder and prevent soldiers and veterans from seeking treatment.

"Creating a link without really knowing what causes a crime stigmatizes hundreds of thousands of people who have such a diagnosis who are contributing members to society and are no harm to anybody," said Dr. Israel Liberzon, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Capt. Maybee said he chose to speak candidly with his family and fellow soldiers to fight stereotypes about the condition. He hopes that others will not suffer from an association with rare cases of violent crimes.

"A handful of people make major news stories," Maybee said, "and you don't hear about that person who's suffering silently, abusing drugs and alcohol, or is confronting their issues and moving on with their lives."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Michelle Obama Touts New Effort on Military PTSD, Brain Injuries

The White House/Chuck Kennedy(WASHINGTON) -- First lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden on Wednesday touted a new commitment by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) to improve the health care delivered to military veterans and their families.

Their goal, they said in a statement, is to create a new generation of doctors, medical schools and research facilities capable of providing a quality of care “worthy of their sacrifice.”

Some 130 U.S. medical schools associated with the AAMC and AACOM had pledged their support.

“I’m inspired to see our nation’s medical schools step up to address this pressing need for our veterans and military families,” said Mrs. Obama in a statement.  “By directing some of our brightest minds, our most cutting-edge research, and our finest teaching institutions toward our military families, they’re ensuring that those who have served our country receive the first-rate care that they have earned.”

The two medical education groups say they will focus on developing new research and clinical trials for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries so that they can better understand and treat those conditions.  The group also plans to share the information and best practices they develop through a collaborative web forum.

“Medical schools have long recognized the sacrifice and commitment of our military, veterans, and their families,” said Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges.  ”Because of our integrated missions in education, clinical care, and research, America’s medical schools are uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in this important effort.”

The project is part of the first lady’s Joining Forces initiative to support veterans and military families.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Passenger Sues Airline Over Turbulent Flight

United Continental Holdings(HOUSTON) -- A Texas woman is suing Continental Airlines and three other airlines after a turbulent flight left her suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental trauma.

Colleen O'Neal, of Lubbock, Texas, claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that a flight through stormy weather from College Station to Houston left her with an "intense fear of flying" that affected her mental health and her career.

The lawsuit filed at the Harris County District Court claims that what was supposed to have been a 20-minute flight on Oct. 29, 2009, turned into a two-hour ordeal. The aircraft rose and fell "as if it had lost power and was falling out of the sky," leading O'Neal to fear she was going to die, the court papers said.

Weather reports prior to the flight's takeoff had predicted intense thunderstorms with a "threat of tornadoes, wind shear, and dangerously strong winds," the lawsuit said.

At one point during the flight, the pilots attempted an emergency landing in Victoria, Texas, but were forced to abort.

O'Neal's attorney, Corwin Fargason, said that at the end of the flight passengers posed with the pilots for a photo to celebrate their survival.

"I've flown quite a bit in my life and there's a difference between bumpy and what she experienced," Fargason said.

According to the complaint, O'Neal now suffers from PTSD symptoms, including "nightmares and flashbacks" that have left her unable to fly.

O'Neal purchased the ticket through Continental Airlines, but the flight was operated by Colgan Airlines.

She is also suing United Airlines, Colgan and Pinnacle Airlines. United merged with Continental Airlines last year and Pinnacle Airlines owns Colgan Airlines.

O'Neal, who works as a district manager for the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said her fear of flying cost her a position at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She would have been required to travel by air.

In published reports, officials for Continental, United and Pinnacle declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


9/11 -- Remembrance and Renewal: Thousands Still Coping with PTSD

CHANG W. LEE/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A decade after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, thousands are still feeling the emotional impact.

After 9/11, a unified spirit helped Americans cope.

"There was a real sense of solidarity in the community which I think probably limited the [emotional] damage," says Dr. John Markowitz at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

But there are nearly 4,000 people who are still suffering with 9/11-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"Everyone was in a certain amount of shock.  For most people that subsided, but for a lot of people that's really persisted," Markowitz says.

He adds, "Every time there's another catastrophe in Japan or in Norway, wherever, it reawakens this for people."

Markowitz is spending the next two years studying PTSD and the best way to treat it.

He explains that some people try to seal off this event and avoid thinking about it, but certain things can trigger it.  One such example could be the 10-year commemoration of the 9/11 attacks.  While it may help some cope, it may resurface painful memories for others.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Soldier Treated for PTSD Allegedly Stalked by 'Psychotic' Therapist

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(FORT RILEY, Kan.) -- A therapist treating an army sergeant for post-traumatic stress disorder allegedly stalked and sexually harassed the soldier -- apparently sending him lewd text messages and threatening his family -- in a case that culminated with a high-speed chase and the therapist in a psychiatric hospital, according to a military investigation.

Prosecutors Tuesday charged Rachelle Santiago, 43, an independent social worker hired to counsel soldiers at Fort Riley in Kansas, with stalking the sergeant who she was counseling for PTSD and marital problems.

Santiago suggested the sergeant meet her in a bar, allegedly rubbed and "humped" against him in her office, sent suggestive and threatening text messages and appeared unannounced at his home, according to an affidavit filed by a military police investigator.

Fearing his wife or children would be hurt, the soldier took the advice of another non-commissioned officer and reported the alleged harassment.

Santiago was barred Jan. 25 from entering the Fort Riley military installation in northeast Kansas, according to investigators. She tried to get on the post that same day and was issued a citation for alleged criminal trespass.

The next day, she allegedly sped through another entrance. Military police began a high-speed pursuit, which reached 100 mph, for nearly an hour, investigators say.

When she eventually stopped, police took her to the Geary Community Hospital, where she underwent a psychiatric examination and was placed under police guard, according to investigators.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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