Photo: U.S. Army via FlickrLiza Gross looked at how war spurs innovation in medicine in a magazine piece about the state of the art in facial reconstructive surgery for badly wounded soldiers.
With thousands of soldiers having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, our country will be grappling with the short-term and long-term consequences of those wars for decades to come. That means health reporters will find no shortage of opportunities to explain the health ramifications of those tours, from PTSD’s effects and new treatments to battlefield medicine applied in emergency rooms. AHCJ offers several resources to reporters covering mental health issues concerning the military, but there also are many angles to take in looking at the physical consequences of war.
In a new How I Did It article for AHCJ, independent reporter Liza Gross describes how she decided to write about soldiers’ facial reconstruction for Discover and the challenges she encountered, from wading through a huge evidence base of medical research to approaching her interviews with sensitivity and empathy – but not too much. Continue reading
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
This week on Salon.com, Mark Benjamin and Michael de Yoanna are posting the results of their investigation into climbing “preventable death” rates among American soldiers. The reporters focused on the cases of soldiers in Ft. Collins, Colo., but also included the national implications of their findings. In January, they report, the army suspects more soldiers killed themselves than died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
Their findings are being published in a series called Coming Home:
“Salon put together a sample of 25 suicides, prescription overdoses and murders among soldiers at Colorado’s Fort Carson since 2004. Intensive study of 10 of those cases exposed a pattern of preventable deaths, meaning a suicide or murder might have been avoided if the Army had better handled the predictable, well-known symptoms of a malady rampant among combat veterans: combat-related stress and brain injuries.”
According to Benjamin and de Yoanna, many, if not all, of the deaths were preventable. They point to systemic problems with the military culture and the military standard of medical and psychological care as the root cause. The reporters said the Army’s mental health system had failed the soldiers, many of whom had returned from Iraq and suffered classic symptoms of chronic PTSD.