USA

Traumatised veterans sent back to Iraq

A virtual world resembling Iraq has been created for US army veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But is revisiting the sights and sounds of the scenes that caused the trauma a good idea? A PTSD sufferer tells us what he thinks.

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A virtual world resembling Iraq has been created for US army veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But is revisiting the sights and sounds of the scenes that caused the trauma a good idea?

Virtual Iraq is one of three virtual-reality programmes that have been created to help ex-servicemen and women with mental traumas caused by terrifying events during war. Adapted from Full Spectrum Warrior, the Institute for Creative Technologies designed virtual-reality programme looks and feels like a "sandpit" video game - meaning that the user controls where the person goes and what they do. The only difference, is that the soldier cannot fire his weapon. Currently being tested by the US Department of Defense, the virtual therapy is hoped to help the estimated 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who suffer from PTSD, by revisiting and therefore overcoming their terrifying experiences.

"[They] could easily decide that they would rather be dead than have to go back to those harrowing nightmares"

Andy served in the British Army for nine years, in which he spent six months in Bosnia in 1993. He suffered from PTSD for nine years afterwards and now runs a support website for others with similar problems. He has suffered from nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety and paranoia and says that feelings of guilt, shame and a loss of pride have brought him close to suicide on several counts.

In some cases it can be effective but in others it can make the whole situation much worse. If you have a veteran who has been trying to deal with the guilt and shame and everything else that goes with PTSD and then you put him or her right back there without the right back-up you could certainly make them totally unstable and unpick the protective world they have immersed themselves in. Without that protective shield they're vulnerable and could easily decide that they would rather be dead than have to go back to those harrowing nightmares and real life experiences.

I'd definitely edge on caution before putting anyone back into the front line again. I've nearly taken my own life and wish even to this day that I had not come back, as then I wouldn't have had to live this life of hell for so many years. CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] helped me to find new coping mechanisms to deal with the daily issues of anxiety and ways to understand and change my thoughts. But the underlying emotions and fears are never far away. I would never put myself in a position of tipping the delicate balance of life that I've created."

Images from KNX 1070 Radio, USA.

Posted 26 April 08.