Protecting the Warfighter

By Schafer, William; Barlow, Cassie | Army, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Protecting the Warfighter


Schafer, William, Barlow, Cassie, Army


Adavances in body and vehicle armor have protected U.S. service-members physically. It is now time for the United States to improve the mental protection of our servicemembers. The long history of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is replete with examples of how medical professionals tried their best to dissect the symptoms associated with the disorder. In addition, researchers have attempted to provide increasingly better treatment for individuals suffering from PTSD. Although they have not spent a lot of time on preventing symptoms from occurring, there has been some recent research on conditions that may contribute to an individual's vulnerability to PTSD.

Advances in modern medicine have proven somewhat beneficial, but they also have consequences for our medical system. A recent study indicated that for every death in World War II, two veterans returned to the United States with injuries. The statistic went to 1:3 for the Vietnam War and is now 1:16. This statistic is an indicator of how much our medical systems across the United States will be stressed over the next 50 years, as we struggle to help our veterans recover. This stress will include financial costs in government payments to disabled veterans and increased health-care costs based on having more physically and mentally wounded veterans. Based on statistics from previous wars, at least 20 percent of all servicemembers returning from a conflict will struggle with some type of PTSD. With this increase in injuries, the flow through the medical system will increase substantially. Our current medical system is not designed to handle the continual stress of more PTSD patients returning to the country. The entire military community should invest the time and money now to figure out how to reduce the PTSD numbers before soldiers even go into theater. Prevention has a lot of savings potential for our country, and this is where we need to focus our efforts.

Although it is very difficult to completely prevent PTSD, it is possible to minimize the short- and long-term consequences of a traumatic experience. Research indicates that the powerful antidotes to deleterious effects from Stressors are organizational and managerial in nature. Many strategies have been employed by different military and civilian disaster-preparedness agencies in recruiting, screening and selection; predeployment training; selfhelp interventions; formal and professional interventions; postdeployment stabilization and treatment; and organizational response plans.

Although understanding is limited, there are some known vulnerabilities and risk factors for stress tolerance associated with prior experiences and family conditions. Different individuals may have very different responses to the same or similar events. The emotional impact of an event will always be very hard to predict. Certain measures are suggested to ameliorate the effects of stress, however.

The first set of recommendations focuses on the Department of Defense's responsibilities to its military members. Predeployment training is perhaps the most opportune time to minimize stress reactions. The DoD must educate individuals on potential reactions to extreme stress so that soldiers can recognize these symptoms in themselves and in others. When individuals know that they are experiencing common reactions and that there is no stigma with the reactions, they will be better able to cope with the stress reactions. Individuals need to be educated on the emotional, biological, cognitive and psychosocial reactions and where they can go to get professional support.

Individuals should also get realistic training on the specific mission they are about to embark upon and the stressors that could accompany this mission. In addition, there are always stressors associated with being away from home in a different environment that should be anticipated as well. Training should focus on the possible circumstances and outcomes, and individuals should be able to rehearse potential reactions. …

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