Editor’s Note: The struggles that soldiers go through in the heat of battle don’t necessarily end when they come home. The trauma they experience can lead to numerous psychological injuries. One reporter witnessed these terrible effects as he followed the lives of soldiers returning from Iraq. This post originally appeared on The Progressive Book Club.
Following the lives of soldiers back from from multiple tours in Iraq in 2007, Colorado Springs reporter David Philipps quickly noticed a grim pattern. Many soldiers from the brigade he was covering went on drug-fueled crime sprees including shootings, brawls, beatings, rapes, domestic violence, and suicide.
Eight were arrested for murder or attempted murder. He found that many had been “blown up” multiple times by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Thanks to modern medicine and modern armor, they came home without visible wounds; but, as Philipps began to understand, they had picked up severe psychological injuries–Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, paranoia, and depression among them–which may, at a minimum, have fed into their behavior.
In his new book, Lethal Warriors: Uncovering the Tragic Reality of PTSD, Philipps tells the harrowing tale of these soldiers and their struggles with combat stress injuries, and of the U.S. military’s belated and faltering efforts to help them. In the excerpt below, he explains that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced “tens of thousands” of casualties like the Colorado men, “walking wounded hidden in the force.”
From the Introduction
Iraq and Afganistan are new kinds of wars with new kinds of casualties. Though the wars have produced relatively few American dead, that is, to a large extent, because of new advances in body armor, armored vehicles, and sophisticated lifesaving techniques. In the Civil War and World War II, one in three soldiers wounded in combat died from his injuries. In Vietnam it was one in four. In Iraq and Afghanistan it is somewhere around one in fifteen. This stunning advancement does not even count the thousands who, because of better armor, were never seriously wounded in the first place. A massive explosion that could have evaporated an infantry company in the Civil War might cause little more than a concussion to troops in an armored Humvee in Baghdad. Many of the soldiers later arrested for murder had been blown up half a dozen times and received barely a scratch. But that does not mean modern combat does not inflict wounds. These modern conflicts have produced tens of thousands of walking wounded hidden in the force. Nothing illustrates the new dynamic better than this: by 2009, while the United States was engaged in two separate wars, more soldiers died from suicide, drugs, and alcohol than died by the hand of the enemy.
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense