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Center for Mind-Body Medicine designs alternative therapies for PTSD.

Veterans, a Surge of New Treatments for Trauma
Tina Rosenberg, New York Times

Suicide is now the leading cause of death in the army. More soldiers die by suicide than in combat or vehicle accidents, and rates are rising: July, with 38 suicides among active duty and reserve soldiers, was the worst month since the Army began counting. General Lloyd Austin III, the army’s second in command, called suicide “the worst enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the army.” This Thursday, the Army is calling a “Suicide Stand-Down.” All units will devote the day to suicide prevention.

There are many reasons a soldier will take his own life, but one major factor is post-traumatic stress.

Anyone who undergoes trauma can experience post-traumatic stress disorder — victims of rape and other crimes, family violence, a car accident. It is epidemic, however, among soldiers, especially those who see combat. People with PTSD re-experience their trauma over and over, with nightmares or flashbacks. They are hyperaroused: the slam of a car door at home can suddenly send their minds back to Iraq. And they limit their lives by avoiding things that can bring on the anxiety — driving, for instance, or being in a crowd.

PTSD has affected soldiers since war began, but the Vietnam War was the first in which the American military started to see it as a brain injury rather than a sign of cowardice or shirking. A study of Vietnam vets 20 years after the conflict found that a quarter of vets who served in Vietnam still had full or partial PTSD.

America’s current wars may create even more suffering for those who fought them. In the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts soldiers have been returned to these wars again and again, and they face a deadly new weapon — improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s — which cause brain injuries that, terrible in themselves, also seem to intensify PTSD. “We surmise PTSD will be worse,” said Dr. James Kelly, the director of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, which studies and treats the intersection of PTSD and traumatic brain injury. “Some people are on their 10th deployment. Previously, people didn’t have those doses. And there are multiple blast exposures and other blunt blows to the head. This kind of thing is new to us.”

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