KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Staff Sergeant Robert Bales' attorney, John Henry Browne, has pointed to post traumatic stress disorder as a contributing factor for the mass killing his client is accused of in Afghanistan. He's said the 38 year old suffered a head injury in his previous deployment in Afghanistan. Plus, two days before the shootings, Bales' friend's leg was blown to pieces by a roadside bomb. Bales apparently didn't see the explosion but saw the aftermath.
Research may back up his claim.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs , for every 100 veterans coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan, between 11 and 20 suffer from PTSD.
Neuroscientists and counselors say PTSD is very dangerous for veterans who get deployed two, three, four times because the effect of trauma can last a lifetime, unless it's fully treated.
Nancy Harrel of the Trauma Healing and Recovery Institute, Inc. has treated people living with PTSD for more than 15 years. She said the disorder never surprises her, "I've seen trauma do a lot of different things and nothing really surprises me. When someone's in that state, they have lost sight of the present. They are only in the terror."
She didn't know enough about Bales' case to say if PTSD caused his actions. Though, she added, "Whether that was the case with that guy or not, I don't know but it wouldn't surprise me."
Bales was deployed four times in ten years before being accused in a killing rampage on March 11th that left 16 civilian Afghans dead, including nine children.
Neuroscientist Dr. Robert Bilder , of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior , has been part of a number of clinical cases involving veterans who've been deployed multiple times. He reacted by phone Monday, "We need to be more attentive to the care of our soldiers when they are showing signs of psychological distress and assure they are not re-deployed."
He explained that traumatic head injuries and PTSD are linked, saying there is a whole section of literature that supports the research.
The New England Journal of Medicine reported, after studying a group of 2,525 soldiers, that 44% of those who reported loss of consciousness in duty also had PTSD. The numbers lower from there. However, the full study shows that even without injury, 9% of soldiers presented signs of PTSD.
Harrel said, "It's like the trauma gets stuck in the fight or flight part of the brain and as they process it and talk about it, it begins to move into the neocortex part of the brain, which is our thinking part."
Military or civilian, Harrel knows there's always hope. She said, wellness begins with looking for help.
PTSD symptoms include problems sleeping, high anxiety and emotional triggers. The VA has a 24-hour crisis hotline : 1-800-273-8255.