The Hidden Casualties of War: PTSD in Soldiers

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


Jennifer W.

I am a 44 year wife of a combat officer...I think I have PTSD from trying to cope with the craziness that has gone on in our life, i.e. his PTSD. I need to let go of him and save myself but I feel guilty about leaving him.

Cheryl H.
Cheryl H.7 years ago

The Army is notorious for being anti-mental health treatment. Attitudes and policies must change if our military is going to be strong and able.

Penny-Elizabeth N.

People in the previous wars DID have ptsd, only back then it was called shell shock. It was common for soldiers returning from war to lead the rest of their lives almost lost to the living world, with some of them completely out of touch with reality and needing constant family care.

Having said that, people in older times were more mentally robust than we are now. They had less pressure in their general life, and the attitude (especially of the British of whom my family are a part) was that you just 'got on with it.' nowadays we are socially trained to almost expect mental illness and an inability to cope.

My father suffers ptsd from his tour in Vietnam, now my brother suffers it too as a result of his tour in Afghanistan. I suffer anxiety and depression so they have someone they can talk to when not at counselling, and they have each other of course. My brother's is so bad he can no long continue in the army, instead he works for their hospitals, talking to other ptsd soldiers.

I think the world would feel more passionate about stopping this invasion we are currently involved in if the count of the dead was alongside a count of those permanently mentally traumatised.

Donald MacDonald
don MacDonald7 years ago

" The Hidden Casualties of War: PTSD in Soldiers "

Not to mention the depleted uranium exposure and the H1N1 vaccine biological time bombs ticking away in their bodies.


Carole Cherne
Carole Cherne7 years ago

The travesties of war endure for generations. Support our soldiers-bring them home! And then provide the supports they need when they come home. The billions given to Haliburton and other Bush-Cheney friends and the unconscionable tax breaks retained by the richest of the rich should be used to help our servicemen and servicewomen who have sacrificed so much.

Nicholas A.
Nicholas A.7 years ago

Why can't our civilization, the most advanced, help us create a world without wars.? Greed, lust for power and fame, and all the abominable dispositions have increased with increase in human intelligence.

Let us think about that, and there will no need for veterans, for there will be no wars to breed veterans. What a happy world this will be!


Nicholas A.
Nicholas A.7 years ago

Why can our civilization, the most advanced, help us create a world without wars.? Greed, lust for power and fame, and all the abominable dispositions have increased with increase in hu What a happy world!man intelligence.

Let us think about that, and there will no need for veterans, for there will be no wars to breed veterans.

Andy Anderson
Andy Anderson7 years ago

@Sandra. The reasons are complex, the nature of war has changed, in WWI and WWII the enemy wore a uniform and was therefore easily identified - it's more unsettling when everyone in civilian dress may be the enemy. Also in the two WWs returning soldiers sailed across an ocean to get home, 5-7 days at sea and they were returning to a population that generally understood what the war was about ... now soldiers are in a battlezone and within 24 hours they are back in civvy street among a population that in too many cases knows nothing of what it's like or are hostile to the whole business, making reintegration much more difficult. It's complex!!!!!

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman7 years ago

What is seen and experienced overseas is definitely something I would not want to have in my subconscious to remember the rest of my life. It is just horrible what service people suffer abroad and when they come home. :-(

John C.
Past Member 7 years ago

Thank you!