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Sgt. Robert Bales: Defense team begins building case on PTSD

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PTSD – called “soldier’s heart” during the Civil War, “shell shock” in World War I, and “battle fatigue” in World War II – is as old as combat itself. Greek historian Herodotus wrote of a physically uninjured soldier who went blind when the soldier next to him was killed. Studies estimate that nearly 30 percent of Vietnam veterans (some 830,000) have experienced some level of PTSD.

In 2008, the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research and analysis organization, reported that nearly 20 percent of military service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan – some 300,000 at that point in the wars – reported symptoms of  PTSD or major depression.

In addition, RAND reported, “Researchers found about 19 percent of returning service members report that they experienced a possible traumatic brain injury [TBI] while deployed, with 7 percent reporting both a probable brain injury and current PTSD or major depression.”

A recent Army study on health problems noted that soldiers in stressful situations – either while deployed or back home – may have “a strong urge to use alcohol or drugs to try to get sleep or not think about things that happened” in combat. (There have been reports – denied by Bales’ lawyer – that Bales had been drinking before the Afghan villagers were killed.)

"Each soldier can be adversely affected by one or more physical or behavioral health issues at the same time but each in very different ways," the Army study says. "Leaders and healthcare providers now recognize that many individuals who suffer from PTSD or depression are at greater risk for alcohol and substance abuse, aggressive behavior and failed relationships."

Major concerns have included suicide levels and instances of spouse abuse, including murder.

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