Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Another Hidden Cost of War

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

Josh Dobbelstein drives as close to the middle of the road as he can. Over on the side, in a plastic bag or stuffed in the carcass of a dead dog, that's where he knows the enemy intent on killing him hides bombs.

Just the other day he dove to the floor of a vehicle he was riding in when he mistook the sound of a trucker hitting his brakes for a machine gun.

They are the kinds of precautions that keep soldiers at war alive. But Dobbelstein left Iraq more than 16 months ago, and for him they are vestiges of a war he can't seem to shake.

PTSD became famous when certain symptoms were identifed over and over again in the veterans returning from Vietnam. Later PTSD was found in survivors of childhood abuse, in hostages after they were released and in individuals with similar horrid life experiences.

The sufferer of PTSD is permanently on the alert, cannot turn this state off, and cannot avoid reacting to certain clues: a backfiring car, a shadow passing the window, the smell of the aftershave the rapist used, and when these clues emerge the sufferer retreats to the conditions of the initial trauma.

This is pure hell, not only for the sufferer but also for those near him or her, and the consequences can be severe: lives ruined, marriages dissolved, jobs lost.

PTSD can be treated, and it's important for those who suffer from it to seek help. But it's also important to realize that this is yet another cost of the Iraq war, a cost that is hidden and even kept hidden by the sufferers because real warriors must not show weaknesses.