Dr. James Bender, DCoE psychologist on June 27, 2011
Doc Bender on top of the Ziggurat of Ur in Southern Iraq, in February 2009.
Dr. James Bender is a former Army psychologist who deployed to Iraq as the brigade psychologist for the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Hood, Texas. During his deployment, he traveled through Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog on psychological health concerns related to deployment and being in the military.
Hi. June 27 is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day. It’s designed to promote awareness and dialogue about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Few of the only good things to come out of war are the tremendous advances in the science of treating illness and injuries, both physical and psychological. These advances are due partly to more resources and attention being paid to combat-related injuries and partly due to health care providers, unfortunately, getting a lot more practice in treating these conditions.
PTSD was first recognized as a “real” mental illness in this country in 1980 by the American Psychiatric Association in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, a long book that lists every mental condition that’s formally recognized. This disorder was around long before that, ever since combat has been around. There are writings by ancient Greek warriors from the Battle of Marathon about soldiers with no physical ailments who suffered because of the stress they encountered. In the American Civil War, PTSD was called “nostalgia” and treatment consisted of a soldier, especially Southern soldiers who lived close to the battlefield, walking home and taking a few days off before returning to the battlefield. (Interestingly, we still use a similar approach today in certain cases.) In World War I it was called shell shock and in World War II it was called neurosis, an old Freudian term that means anxiety. In the Vietnam Era the symptoms were described as combat stress reaction.
Today, there is more awareness, research and treatment for PTSD. Researchers are working hard to increase our understanding of and treatments for the disorder. New advances in brain imaging have led to remarkable discoveries. For example, PTSD actually shrinks a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which grows back with successful treatment.
Unfortunately, we didn’t always understand or appreciate the effects of PTSD the way we do now. A lot of vets from previous wars were labeled as cowards or fakers for speaking about their symptoms or seeking help. Their voices and demands for research and treatment paved the way for the advances we have today. Vietnam vets in particular lobbied professional groups and legislatures to do something about the problem. I do a lot of outreach and advocacy in my job at DCoE and some of the biggest advocates for this generation’s veterans are Vietnam vets. Several of them have told me, “I want America to treat you better than it treated me.”
So this Monday, I’m going to give thanks to all the warriors who worked tirelessly and effectively to bring this problem to the forefront. As both a clinician and a veteran, I owe them a lot.
Thank you for your service. Those of you in Iraq and Afghanistan, stay safe and cool. Leave me a note if you have any questions or comments.