November 5, 2007 – Do you know a soldier who just isn’t acting like himself these days?
If so, he could be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury as a result of serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Recognizing the symptoms associated with PTSD and TBI should now be easier for soldiers and civilian employees thanks to a new mandatory awareness program the Army launched this summer. The one- to two-hour “chain-teaching” program should have been delivered to all units by their command in mid-October.
“I think the biggest thing with the chain teaching is that it kind of identifies symptoms that aren’t very apparent otherwise,” said Jeri Chappelle, spokeswoman for Europe Regional Medical Command. “Soldiers may be experiencing these symptoms and don’t know why they have them.”
Coupled with other efforts — such as Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s new proposal to establish a TBI center — the awareness program shows military officials are devoting more resources to the two conditions, which affect up to 30 percent of downrange troops.
Furthering the cause is the $900 million Congress allocated earlier this year for PTSD and TBI, now considered among the war’s hallmark injuries.
“It’s coming from the recognition of the magnitude of the problem,” said Army Dr. (Col.) Stephen Flaherty, chief of Lanstuhl’s trauma center. “Education is important. We know this is happening.”
Though they can afflict someone simultaneously, the combat-related conditions manifest themselves in distinct ways.
Signs of PTSD can surface after experiencing an incident resulting in intense fear, hopelessness or horror. They can include reliving the episode over and over again, avoiding reminders of the event and constantly feeling on edge.
Mild TBI is caused by blows to the head and exposure to blasts and explosions that result in concussion, which when suffered multiple times can complicate the condition. Signs include blurred vision, headaches, aggressive behavior, depression and cognitive issues such as trouble concentrating.
But perhaps as important as recognizing the signs of PTSD and TBI is overcoming the negative connotations attached to the conditions, say military officials.
“There is a stigma is associated with soldiers seeking mental help, but I think that’s changing,” said Chappelle, the ERMC spokeswoman.
“I think everybody is trying to get the word out to soldiers that if they have problems they should get help,” she said.
And experts agree, the sooner help is sought, the better. While some can suffer lifelong effects from TBI and PTSD, doctors and researchers say treatment can help troops fully recover.
A version of the PTSD/TBI awareness program designed specifically for Family Readiness Groups also is available.
Both versions can be accessed at www.army.mil. Look for “PTSD/TBI Chain Teaching Program” under “Strategic Messages” on the right side of the page.
Resources On The Web
- National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- National Institute of Mental Health
- American Psychological Association
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention