Tag Archives: afghanistan

PTSD or personality disorder? It matters to soldiers

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The AP’s Anne Flaherty has put together a story that illuminates the Army’s refusal to admit that it could have misdiagnosed (and discharged) hundreds of soldiers who may have had PTSD or traumatic brain injury instead of a personality disorder. Keep in mind that a discharge for “personality disorder” means no veterans’ benefits and a lifetime of stigma. A diagnosis of PTSD or injury, on the other hand, means treatment will be covered by the government.

dentistPhoto by isafmedia via Flickr

The Army, for its part, has decided there’s nothing unusual about the following chain of events (taken from Flaherty’s story):

  1. The Army “discharged about a 1,000 soldiers a year between 2005 and 2007 for having a personality disorder.”
  2. In 2007, The Nation‘s Joshua Kors writes a cover story exposing the Army’s apparent habit of diagnosing soldiers with a personality disorder instead of considering the possibility of PTSD or traumatic brain injury.
  3. Soon after, “the Defense Department changed its policy and began requiring a top-level review of each case to ensure post-traumatic stress or a brain injury wasn’t the underlying cause.”
  4. Sure enough, “the annual number of personality disorder cases dropped by 75 percent.”
  5. At the same time, the number of post-traumatic stress disorder cases has soared. By 2008, more than 14,000 soldiers had been diagnosed with PTSD — twice as many as two years before.
  6. Army officials “reviewed the paperwork of all deployed soldiers dismissed with a personality disorder between 2001 and 2006” and said they “did not find evidence that soldiers with PTSD had been inappropriately discharged with personality disorder.”

MSNBC tells of earthquake amputees, soldiers

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, an MSNBC team has set out to cover, through a variety of media, an American prosthetic group working at a rural hospital to fit limbs to hundreds of earthquake amputees. At the same time, the team is sharing personal essays written by American soldiers who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s an unusual post-disaster focus that has yielded some impressive stories.

Here are a few of the most notable dispatches:

More vets come home as result of psychiatric issues

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

On Shots, NPR’s Health Blog, Nadja Popovich reports on a recent Johns Hopkins study that found, more troops were evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 for mental health problems than for combat injuries.

The increase comes despite the military’s increased focus on combating mental health problems among American soldiers. The largest number of evacuated soldiers are still those diagnosed with “noncombat-related injuries, such as muscle and joint problems that come from carrying equipment,” but psychiatric evacuations are a growing and complex problem.

afghanistanAmerican paratroopers in Afghanistan. Photo by U.S. Army Spc. William E. Henry via Flickr

… those suffering from mental health issues had a remarkably low rate of returning to full duty. “Psychiatric conditions have the lowest return to duty rates among any diagnostic group aside from combat injuries,” (study leader Steven P. Cohen, an associate professor of anesthesiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve) wrote. “But the effects are much worse, because psychiatric conditions worsen the prognosis for all other conditions.”

“Patients with PTSD — as a rule — have multiple other complaints,” he continued. “Studies have shown that most people with persistent PTSD have ongoing musculoskeletal, neurological and constitutional complaints that are unlikely to respond to treatment.”

Related AHCJ articles

Interviewing ‘profoundly affected’ soldiers
Tips for interviewing service members returning from Iraq, the Middle East or Afghanistan