11/17/2004

Soldiers' Mental Traumas Surfacing

Soldiers' Mental Traumas Surfacing: "WASHINGTON - Matt LaBranche got the tattoos at a seedy place down the street from the Army hospital here where he was a patient in the psychiatric ward.

The pain of the needle felt good to the former Army sergeant, 40, whose memories of his nine months as a machine gunner in Iraq had left him, he said, 'feeling dead inside.' Drawn from his neck to the small of his back, the dark outline of a sword is emblazoned with the words LaBranche says encapsulate the war's effect on him: 'I've come to bring you hell.'

In soldiers such as LaBranche, their bodies whole but their psyches deeply wounded, mental health experts say a crisis is unfolding.

One of every six soldiers returning from Iraq is suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress - and as more come home, that number is expected to grow.

The Pentagon, which failed to anticipate the extent of the problem, is scrambling to find resources to address it.

A study by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research found 15.6 percent of Marines and 17.1 percent of soldiers surveyed after they returned from Iraq suffered from major depression, generalized anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder - a debilitating, sometimes lifelong change in the brain's chemistry that can include flashbacks, sleep disorders, panic attacks, violent outbursts, acute anxiety and emotional numbness.

Army and Veterans Affairs mental health experts say there is reason to believe the war's ultimate psychological fallout will worsen. The Army survey of 6,200 soldiers and Marines included only troops willing to report their problems."

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