I just read disturbing comments by a highly respected University of California doc Karen Seal [who screens and treats returning veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan at San Francisco’s famous Ft. Miley Veterans Administration Hospital, one of our premier VA Research Hospitals] about the redeployment of young soldiers treated for PTSD and other neurological and psychatric problems back to Mid-East war zones [http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,136020,00.html]. Effective last December, service members with a “psychiatric disorder in remission, or whose residual symptoms do not impair duty performance” may be sent back to Iraq or Afghanistan. The redeployment decision will be made by their military commanders.
Dr. Seal stated flatly that patients under her direct care had been deployed back to the war zone despite serious mental health conditions. You can believe her because she and her colleagues have shown that these problems are not exactly a rare outcome for service men and women serving in these theaters of action. Of 100,000 returning vets examined in the studies of Dr. Seal and her VA Hospital colleagues to date, more than 30,000 had a SERIOUS mental health problem. (Lots more, as we’ve pointed out earlier, are merely cognitively impaired.) If you do a little math on the attrition rates in miltary units going from deployment to deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan, it reveals that many thousands of those redeployed soldiers — including very many who WANT to return to finish the job against their own best neurological interests — have already been deeply, darkly mentally affected by it.
We noted earlier that studies conducted in places in the world where trauma runs amok (Sierra Leone, Uganda, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, et alia) have shown that the probability of incurring PTSD is a function of the NUMBER of traumatic incidents to which an individual is exposed. It doesn’t take any special kind of scientific or medical genius to understand that once a young soldier has developed a PTSD, returning them to a war zone now that they have shown a special susceptibility for falling into the abyss — and sending them back to a place where further trauma known to relatively predictably exacerbate and deepen their condition is highly likely — is just plain ethically, morally and medically WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.
You, and I, and our fellow citizens have a special obligation to HELP these young men and women. Believe me, they are now — and shall be increasingly — in VERY great need of our help. Most of them went to Iraq and Afghanistan on our behalf, with the strong conviction (right, or wrong) that by doing so, they were rescuing and protecting US. Now its OUR turn.