By Kim Sengupta
New Zealand Herald
The mental scars borne by those who have experienced the horrors of the Iraq conflict have been exposed in a series of medical studies and legal actions.
The first piece of major research charting the psychological impact of the conflict is expected to show that thousands of members of Britain’s armed forces have returned with problems including post-traumatic stress disorder.
The relentless bombings and shootings as well as the intrinsic doubts of being involved in this particular war have, say medical specialists, made Iraq the most troubling combat theatre for soldiers in the post-war era.
In the first of such litigation, 15 British soldiers who have recently served in Iraq are suing the Ministry of Defence over alleged medical negligence.
The widow of one serviceman who committed suicide after returning from Iraq is expected to bring a separate legal action.
US forces, who face far worse on-going violence in the Sunni triangle of central Iraq, compared to British troops, report a higher scale of trauma.
More than a fifth of American servicemen and women returning from Iraq may suffer from post traumatic stress, according to a recent report.
One of its authors, Carl Castro of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research said: “It should be stressed that there are a significant number of soldiers who require help.”
US forces in the field in Iraq now regularly have members from the Mental Health Unit in forward base known as ‘mindsweepers’.
In the US one of the courses of treatment being tried include the issuing of Ecstasy tablets to help free them of flashbacks and recurring nightmares.
The US Food and Drug Administration authorised the issuing of the MDMA drug to Iraq veterans after successful initial research carried out at a facility in South Carolina.
Stress caused by the conflict has also been used in legal defence.
In Britain, former SAS trooper Andrew Wragg who killed his 10-year-old terminally ill son was cleared of murder last month. Wragg, 37, was convicted of manslaughter instead.
Lewes Crown Court in Sussex, England heard that he was suffering from temporary abnormality of mind caused by experience of Iraq.
The Territorial Army, which was deployed in huge numbers in Iraq, have 60 members receiving psychological help after Iraq service. Half of those who requested help are reservists not entitled to Army facilities.
Lee Skelton, clinical director of Combat Stress, said: “The regular soldier goes back to the support of his barracks and mates. The TA recruit goes back to the council estate with his wife and kids and a civvy job. They are desperately trying to access help…they are finding that difficult.”
Private Gary Boswell, 20 was found hanged near his home at Milford Haven, west Wales, while on leave from Iraq. His mother, Mrs Sarah Boswell, is among service families asking for more official help.
“I do believe soldiers, particularly young ones like my son, should get help as a matter of course”, she said.
“We cannot know what they see and experience in Iraq and we never suspected how deeply he has been touched.”
The 25.01.06 article, “Mental scars of Iraq conflict participants exposed” by Kim Sengupta, reported that the US military was giving soldiers fighting the Iraq war “Ecstasy tablets to help free them of flashbacks and recurring nightmares,” after the FDA “authorised the issuing of the MDMA drug to Iraq veterans after successful initial research carried out at a facility in South Carolina.” This is not quite accurate. Its true that the initial MDMA research in South Carolina is generating very promising results, and the FDA did authorize the expansion of the research to include soldiers. However, no soldiers have yet been treated and the initial study has not been completed. Much larger studies will be needed before MDMA is ever a prescription medication. Research with MDMA for war and terrorism-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been approved in Israel and MDMA/PTSD research is soon to be approved in Switzerland. If approved as a treatment, MDMA will never be issued as tablets directly to soldiers or other patients. MDMA is not a standard pharmacological treatment. MDMA is intended to be used under direct supervision of a therapist as part of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.
Rick Doblin, Ph.D.
President, MAPS (www.maps.org)
MAPS is the non-profit organization that is sponsoring
the research into MDMA-assisted psychotherapy