Getting Help For Soldiers With PTSD

We still don't know what caused an American soldier to open fire on innocent civilians in Afghanistan over the weekend. Sixteen people were killed including women and children. The White House and agencies are working to get U.S. military personnel the mental help they need.

Some people have nightmares if they see a particularly scary movie. For others, just being involved in a car accident can create a fear of traveling. So imagine what could happen mentally to a person if they had to live through this on a routine basis ...

[Sounds of warfare].

The stress of war can cause depression or mental issues the person feels they can’t control. The condition is known as post- traumatic stress disorder:

"Flashbacks and nightmares, and inability to not go back there in your mind, or to be pulled back just from some random noise out there."

Researchers say depression caused by PTSD one of the main factors in suicides of military personnel. John Oldham is chief of staff at the Menninger Clinic in Houston and is also president of the American Psychiatric Association. He recently attended a meeting at the White House on this very issue.

"We’re also concerned because the estimate is that over the next ten years there will be about a million people coming out of the military as the military downsizes."

Doctor Oldham says he received a letter from a top military official, who would like to see the word disorder eliminated and to simply call the condition post-traumatic stress.

"He was very concerned about how to get soldiers to get the help they need. He estimated that about half of the soldiers who have post traumatic stress disorder will not go and seek help. Because their fear is if they walk through the door that has anything on the label that has mental health — that it’s a career killer."

Former Army soldier Tony Solomon, a Houston resident considers himself one of the lucky ones. He made it through two deployments in Iraq despite being on the front lines almost every day.

"You’re trying not to get blown up."

[Sounds of warfare].

"Our unit in particular, the first ninety days had over 200 incidents of small arms fire and the unit that we replaced had sustained some heavy casualties."

Despite his experience Solomon feels he’s as mentally sharp as ever. In fact, he works for Mental Health America and tries to help other veterans deal with their own issues.

So what was it that kept this soldier and others from getting PTSD, while some of their combat brothers weren’t so lucky?

"You know I ask myself that question very often and I don’t know."

Dr. Oldham says anyone can be affected by PTSD if exposed to the right conditions.

"You put anybody in enough stress and you’re going to experience just huge major problems and we need to help people be able to talk about it, be able to say I need help."

Solomon says he prays for the soldier accused of the Afghan killings. We may not be able to change much about what happens on the battlefield, but he says there’s plenty we can do to help once soldiers return.