Soldiers Learn to Deal With PTSD

ByABC News
December 15, 2004, 6:23 PM

Dec. 16, 2004 — -- In past wars, it was called combat stress, battle fatigue or shell shock.

Now it's called post-traumatic stress disorder -- and with violence in Iraq so widespread and the tours of duty so long, there is a growing concern that veterans of that conflict are suffering in far greater numbers than casualty figures are able to accurately reflect.

The Army has expanded its efforts to help soldiers, putting more mental health teams in Iraq and on call at bases in the United States than it has ever done before.

It has also extended measures to deal with PTSD from the moments after a traumatic event, to when troops come home and after. Some soldiers are screened months after they arrive home.

"It's a disorder that evolves over time," said Robert Ursano, chief psychiatrist at the military's own medical school in Bethesda, Md.

"We know that there's both acute PTSD in which people recover in three to six months and there can be chronic PTSD that can go on for decades and decades and decades."

What's clear to mental health professionals now is that PTSD can't be solved by simply going home -- as many soldiers might like to believe.

"A lot of them feel if I get back to my spouse, if I get back to my secure environment, this will all go away," said Col. Michael Bridgewater, a clinical psychologist at Ft. Polk, La. "Well, it doesn't go away."

For any soldier, finding ways to deal with the psychological stresses of combat -- as they are happening -- is a matter of survival.

"The fact that you're going to confront the fact that you're going to kill another human being -- that is traumatic just as much as the stress of being killed," said Sgt. Steve Jenkins.

But in the moments after a rough incident, soldiers also often find the first line of defense in relieving the extreme tensions of combat is the simple act of a soldier talking to his buddy.