Janine Weisman is an adjunct journalism professor at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. She was editor of the Newport Mercury for 13 years and is transitioning to a digital editor role after its acquisition by Gatehouse Media. She is also a freelance contributing writer for New England Psychologist covering stories of interest to licensed psychologists in all six New England states.
The physical manifestations of stress are something Kenneth Pitts, M.S., research scientist at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass., knows a heck of a lot about. A U.S. Army veteran who deployed to Afghanistan, Kosovo and Panama during his 23 years of military service, Pitts opened his talk with a YouTube video portraying how to drive a Hummer in Iraq: Basically, never stop, even if that means bumping other vehicles out of the way and driving the wrong way to avoid encountering an improvised explosive device.
“They think their life depends on it,” Pitts said.
Maintaining that level of alertness has lasting physiological effects, disrupting the body’s levels of the stress hormones adrenaline, prompting the first wave of the fight-or-flight response, and cortisol, which supports the body as it takes action. Cortisol is known to increase the storage of emotional memories.
“You can maintain that 60 miles per hour but you’re going to wear out your car,” Pitts said, noting that chronic stress produces increased inflammation that is linked to heart disease, strokes and autoimmune disorders. Continue reading →
Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.
The reporters also found that, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, most reservists were medically unready to deploy – an assessment made by a private contractor. “More than 2,400 Army Reserve soldiers were held back, at least temporarily, because of inaccurate assessments by the contractor, according to data provided by the Army Reserve Medical Command.”
Meanwhile, some soldiers with behavioral problems that could be aggravated by the stress of deployment and combat were improperly sent overseas.
The project, done by 10 students, was directed by faculty member Josh Meyer, who covered national security for the Los Angeles Times for 20 years. Students used video and interactive graphics to help tell the stories. A “How We Did It” sidebar says the students interviewed more than 150 people, reviewed documents and reports and traveled to nine states to do the reporting.
Most of the content is behind the Morning News paywall, but there’s enough on the landing pages to, at the very least, help you understand where Tarrant’s investigation has taken him and just how wide-ranging the health effects of prolonged war can become.
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.”
Sure enough, “the annual number of personality disorder cases dropped by 75 percent.”
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.
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.”
The committee behind the report wrote that insufficient data from immediately before and after deployment made drawing clear conclusions difficult, but called for a commitment to monitoring and caring for what the release called “persistent, unexplained symptoms” in Gulf War veterans. It also said that interaction between genes and the environment was likely a factor in veterans’ “multisymptom illness.”
The key paragraph from the press release (emphasis mine):
Military service in the Persian Gulf War is a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder in some veterans and is also associated with multisymptom illness; gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome; substance abuse, particularly alcoholism; and psychiatric problems such as anxiety disorder, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine, the latest update in a series of reports on the Gulf War and veterans’ health. There is some evidence that service during the conflict is linked to fibromyalgia and chronic widespread pain, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, sexual difficulties, and death due to causes such as car accidents in the early years after deployment, but the data are limited, said the committee that wrote the report.