PTSD in Iraq spreads well beyond the boundaries of our armed services. For example:
a) Several times as many Iraqi police and military personnel as Coalition personnel have died in the conflict. Proportionally larger numbers have been wounded. And they are out there, as are our own troops, on the front lines of violence and mayhem. PTSD must be a substantial problem in their ranks.
b) Blackwater (one of 9 or 10 major civilian contractors in Iraq) has recently reported that their rates of PTSD incidence approximately match those incurred by our troops.
c) PTSD has to be a major problem for Iraqi civilians. If its rates of incidence parallels that recorded in our soldiers, about 5 MILLION individuals are affected.
We’ve noted earlier that the probability of onset of PTSD is a function of the number of exposures an individual has to traumatic events. We’ve also noted that cognitive loss and depression increase the risk of PTSD onset. The “tour of duty” for the average Iraqi citizen is now a continuous 5 years. A large proportion of those citizens have lots of reasons to be depressed (half of families live on an income of less than $1/day; infrastructural and societal support is sub-standard; many families have broken up; more than 10% of the population have given up their homes and local communities to move as refugees across the border into Jordan or Syria; etc.).
I’ve noted earlier that we have to take responsibility for helping the neurologically wounded men and women in our Armed Services who, as volunteers, have given us all so much, in the service of our country. It is perhaps natural that our sympathies are muted a little for civilian workers in Iraq, because their commitment to working in this hostile environment often reflects a combination of commitment to service, and their financial self-interests. Because a large proportion of these individuals are retired military, to that extent THEY have the VA system to fall back on for later medical help.
Not so, for Iraqi police, military or civilian populations. Millions of them now possess invisibly “wounded” brains. If the conflict in their country were to be miraculously resolved tomorrow, these individuals shall go into a sort of limbo for a few years (as did the citizens of Germany and Russia and Balkan and Eastern European countries after the Second World War; as did the citizens of Bosnia and Kosovo in more recent times; as did those in Cambodia and Viet Nam). Ultimately, the majority of these neurologically-impaired individuals shall get past it, back into the sunlight, but only after a significant passage of time. Some, like those old Viet Nam vets who still fill our homeless shelters, shall NEVER recover.
Our first obligation, as a nation, is to help those young men and women who have served in Iraqi, with the very best of intentions, on our behalves. At the same time, it seems to this citizen that as we go forward, we also have to sort out how we are going to help the Iraqi population recover from THEIR long period of anxiety, fear, loss, depression and PTSD. THEIR infrastructural losses aren’t limited to sewer mains and water systems and the power grid. Just as in our military, they extend directly into the collective skulls of the greatest infrastructural resource of the Iraqi (or any) nation: