Chip Reid on addressing the long-term mental health of U.S. service members

July 7, 2024
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Former CBS News journalist Chip Reid, author of “Battle Scars,” talks about the ever-present stresses that American military personnel face serving overseas, and how PTSD need not be permanent.


At this moment there are over 35,000 American troops stationed in the Middle East. And since October 7th, when Hamas attacked Israel, there have been more than 170 attempted attacks on U.S. facilities.

If those numbers surprise you, you’re not alone. Most Americans don’t pay much attention to our men and women serving overseas, until something horrible happens.

Technically speaking, America is not at war. But try telling that to those who will in all likelihood continue to be subjected not only to frequent attacks, but also to the extreme stress of constant vigilance.

Which is why I worry about their long-term mental health.

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Casemate


I was embedded with a Marine battalion during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Twenty years later I interviewed dozens of those Marines, and most said they came home with at least some symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), such as nightmares, explosive anger, and survivor’s guilt.

PTSD has always been with us. In the Civil War it was called “soldier’s heart”; in later wars “shell shock,” “combat fatigue,” and “Post-Vietnam Syndrome.”

It was once thought to be a sign of weakness, but medical science tells us it is not. Combat and other traumatic events cause changes in the brain that trigger PTSD.

We also now know that PTSD need not be permanent. A relatively new concept in psychology is Post-Traumatic Growth, in which those who get help with their PTSD, instead of trying to bury it, can experience greater inner strength and a whole new appreciation for life.     

In the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we failed as a nation to respond to a mental health crisis in the military. Let’s make sure that this time around we give our returning troops the mental health services they need and deserve.

READ AN EXCERPT: Marines look back on Iraq War 20 years later in “Battle Scars”

     
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Story produced by Annie Iezzi. Editor: Carol Ross. 

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