Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The military and the Department of Veterans Affairs say they want more veterans and service members to get appropriate treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

That's why they're tweaking the way they define and treat PTSD. But if this approach works, it could add to the backlog of PTSD cases.

For years, the standard definition for post-traumatic stress disorder had a key feature that didn't fit for the military. It said that the standard victim responds to the trauma he or she has experienced with "helplessness and fear."

Over the past five years, the Department of Veterans Affairs says, the number of former service members seeking mental health services has climbed by a third. In response, the agency has boosted funding and tightened standards.

Ralph Bozella

When Ralph Bozella came home from Vietnam in 1972, he was happy he’d survived and was ready to get on with life.

The case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier charged with killing 17 Afghan villagers, has led the Army to review how troops are screened for post-traumatic stress disorder. The Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs say they have invested heavily in the treatment of PTSD to deal with a growing caseload.

But the stigma associated with the disorder continues to complicate efforts to treat it. It has also fueled serious misconceptions about its effects — such as the notion that PTSD causes acts of extreme violence.

The killing of 16 Afghan civilians last Sunday is now one of the greatest points of tension between the United States and Afghanistan. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly killed the civilians in cold blood; those close to him say they were shocked by the news.

According to the Pentagon, Bales had been treated for a traumatic brain injury that he suffered in Iraq in 2010, though the extent of the damage is unclear.

Nineteen-year-old Army Pvt. Cody Dollman has a look in his eyes that makes you think he probably used to fight much bigger kids on the playground back home in Wichita, Kan. He says he always wanted to be a soldier — both his grandfathers served in the military — but he's the first in his family to see action overseas.

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In a fluorescent-lit exam room, Col. Rochelle Wasserman sticks ballpoint-size pins in the ears of Sgt. Rick Remalia.

Remalia broke his back, hip and pelvis during a rollover caused by a pair of rocket-propelled grenades in Afghanistan. He still walks with a cane and suffers from mild traumatic brain injury. Pain is an everyday occurrence, which is where the needles come in.

"I've had a lot of treatment, and this is the first treatment that I've had where I've been like, OK, wow, I've actually seen a really big difference," he says.

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