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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 00:47 GMT 01:47 UK
Iraq veterans' unspoken epidemic

By Matt Frei
BBC News, Washington

Homecoming at Fort Hood
It is the unseen injuries that are worrying the Pentagon

They are getting restless at Fort Hood. The flight from Iraq should have arrived mid-afternoon, but there is a delay and it is now getting dark.

But they have already waited for a year - they can stretch it out for another few hours.

Then the moment that every soldier, and every family dreams of - the return from war unharmed.

But it is the injuries you cannot see that are beginning to worry the Pentagon.

"My nightmares are so intense I woke up one night with my hands round my fiancee's throat," says Lt Julian Goodrum.

'A suicidal wreck'

"Another night she woke me up. I was really kicking and really getting violent in my sleep.

"So now I sleep on the couch until I can get my sleep, my nightmares, more under control."

Video games are helping Iraq returnees deal with the trauma
Video games are helping Iraq returnees deal with the trauma

Lt Goodrum is a veteran of two Gulf wars. He returned from the first a hero, from the second a suicidal wreck.

He suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) and he is not alone.

More than 10,000 returnees from the Iraq war have sought help for a condition in which the mundane becomes a menace.

"The smell of diesel takes me back to Iraq," Lt Goodrum says.

"I am getting better with crowds, but still if it is a very confined space and I am totally surrounded I have issues with that.

"When I am in crowds I tend to watch people's hands."

Unseen consequences

It is the nature of Iraq's insurgency of unseen snipers and roadside bombers which has fuelled the trauma.

And so the Pentagon has gone to an unlikely source for help: video games, designed in Atlanta to recall the streets of Falluja and thus exorcise the ghost of war.

Lt Julian Goodrum
Lt Julian Goodrum suffers from intense nightmares

Ken Grapp, CEO of Virtually Better - a company that creates virtual reality environments to help treat anxiety disorders, says: "It can be totally debilitating to where a person would rather choose suicide than choose to live.

"Persons with PTSD may go back to the streets of Falluja every day in their own minds.

"We are just providing a shared experience where therapists can work with the person and have a better understanding of where they were, and help them process that information."

The Pentagon says it is taking PTSD seriously.

But Lt Goodrum and many other veterans disagree bitterly. It is the epidemic that dare not speak its name.

"For the majority of people - especially military - it is easier to accept and understand a physical injury than a psychological one," Lt Goodrum said.

These are the unseen consequences of a war that will change lives long after the last bullet has been fired and the last soldier has returned home.




SEE ALSO:
Brain clue to stress disorder
12 Jul 03 |  Health


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