NPR has a terrifically terrifying piece on the story of Brock Savelkoul, an Iraq war veteran who suffers from PTSD and mild traumatic brain injury. The story begins in North Dakota where cops are in pursuit of Brock who is armed and driving at high-speed down the highway.
The story works backward from there. If you listen to the 20 minutes of audio, NPR paints the picture of an honorable young man who has done three tours of duty in Iraq, and overtime began to show signs of PTSD and emotionally breakdowns from a severe concussion brought on by a rocket attack of his barracks while on his third duty. As Brock goes from VA hospital to VA hospital he continues to deteriorate until he sought to take his life, which is how the standoff develops in North Dakota.
The piece caused me to think, what is going on with our returning veterans. Beyond painting a picture of deterioration and eventually hope what should we take from this story. What does it all mean?
What I found was concerning, there seems to be an increase in suicides and PTSD and traumatic brain injury without any clear consensus as to why. Some reports suggest that as more military personnel are dying less from moderate to severe injuries that there are just more members in the service who are dealing with the psychological stress of that survival. A by-product of surviving severe psychical injury is this psychological increase. While the view seems plausible to me, it is likely more complex.
A study from the RAND corporation sheds some light on what might be going on in terms of increased psychological pressures. The study looked at the suicide rate among army veterans and found that the rate of suicide had gone from 10 in 100,000 in 2001 to 160 in 100,000 in 2008. That is a dramatic jump.
The RAND study shows that the suicide rate has mostly been driven up by suicides in members of the Army. The full study is available here.
An earlier NPR report from July 2010 presented an Army report which recommended reducing the stigma around those who seek help for mental health. The Army report also sought to raise the alarm on the increasing psychological cost on the military.
The Defense and Brian Injury Center describes their prospective on the current rise in traumatic brain injury on their website here. The site also offers Armed Health Surveillance Center numbers on the actual diagnosis of U.S. Military traumatic brain injury diagnosis. The numbers show a tripling on the diagnosis front.
It is clear that the medical community is noticing something different in veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq and is struggling to figure out what the difference is and how to respond. As I find out more I’ll keep folks updated.