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Sergeant Godsmack vs. Nazar


2) Dueling Scar PTSD: Long before the recent wars, many people “suffered” from PTSD as if it were a dueling scar. “PTSD” was evidence that they had “been there.”  Rambo had “PTSD,” and wannabes needed it, too.

Dueling-Scar-SKORZENY-1000Dueling scar

Dueling scars were fashionable early in the last century in places like Germany and Austria.  Many were real, the result of genuine duels, or academic duels.  The cult of the scar was so compelling that a market emerged for anti-cosmetic surgery to create them.  Stuffing scars with horsehair made them even more disfiguring.  Dueling scars were supposed to be seen. Everybody knows that chicks dig scars.

A psychologist at a VA facility who treats PTSD reviewed this dispatch and commented, “You can also see this in VA hospitals where some veterans seemingly embrace the PTSD diagnosis (legitimate or self-diagnosed…) like being part of an elite club. There is overlap with the service compensation seekers but there is an identity factor independent of secondary gain that seems to drive certain individuals.”

3) PTSD as justification/excuse/alibi: “Yes, your honor, I beat my wife. And I wrecked my car with a bottle of whiskey in my gut. I have PTSD.” “What did you do in the Army?” “I was a cook.” “Were you in combat?” “The sirens from the rocket attacks still ring in my head.”

4) PTSD as Negative Brand: Nobody wants this. True case: a war correspondent wrote that two generals needed to be fired. In order to squelch bad press, or to make sense of unpleasant assertions, many people said (accused, really) that the writer had “PTSD.”  They said that he had “been in war zones for too long,” and that he was “crazy.”  (But then both generals were fired). The false branding was a handy tool to discredit an unwelcome messenger. Unfortunately, there is a persistent negative bias against soldiers, or anyone, really, who has PTSD.  This is the scar that chicks do not dig.

Veterans with authentic PTSD know about shunning. Those with legitimate diagnoses often display opposite behavior from the Dueling Scar crowd: they try to conceal their honorable wounds. Their symptoms are not what they wish to flaunt, but what many times they cannot hide.  Their memories are not what they want to remember, but what they cannot forget.

20120208- 10D8189cc-1000-2Man in Bangladesh who was attacked by a tiger in late 2011. He never smiled during our conversation.

For some people, one serious bomb or firefight overfills their cup.  They actually seem to crack. It is like they snap. One day they are fine, and the next, they are different. Maybe they will regroup. Maybe not.

Others who experience the same event, and sometimes dozens more, keep going.  They draw current like a battery.  Some are like rechargeable batteries, and they seem to lose chargeability over time.  I saw an entire American platoon in Afghanistan that kept doing very dangerous missions, but you could tell that they were spent. I saw a British platoon with a similar feel.

Everybody has limits.  Some crack like eggshells, and others seem hard like diamonds. All will splinter under sufficient instant pressure, or wear down over time with persistent mental abrasion.

PTSD is also a big business for “patients” on the scam, and for doctors, both honest and not. The disorder has become a “slip and fall” con for our generation, but with a hint of “Agent Orange.”  One side can make a credible claim, then the swindlers pile on, and our government does not want to pay for any of it.

Troops have a motive to “get” PTSD, while the military is incentivized to diagnose a “pre-existing personality disorder.”

From our psychologist friend: “I often hear about individuals being med-boarded out for post-trauma psychiatric problems that are mislabeled Personality Disorder NOS, but I do not hear about this mislabeling as much in regards to denied service compensation claims for veterans. Usually, you see insufficient evidence for the diagnosis, the problems are better explained by a comorbid psychiatric condition or the examiner is unable to link the PTSD to a service-related incident if there are other significant traumatic events in the life of the claimant.”

Unfortunately, veterans with legitimate diagnoses of PTSD can end up excluded from treatment. There is vigorous debate in Washington on this matter. During a March 2012 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, the issue was specifically raised.

Aside from the political and economic dramas surrounding PTSD, authentic and fictional stress can have disquieting legal and social consequences. The effects of bona fide PTSD can echo through generations, when a parent is psychologically and emotionally damaged (often with substance abuse issues).  Children suffer diminished parents, with adverse repercussions that can impact subsequent generations.  Suicide is epidemic.

Panjway-US-forces-8662cc1000New road facing away from Panjwai to Kandahar City: Auto accidents are the primary cause of PTSD in America, yet we do not expect survivors to go shooting up the neighborhood.

According to our psychologist: “Many people don’t seem to get that PTSD is not a ‘thing’; it is a constellation of symptoms that exists on a continuum and in certain combinations, intensities and frequencies, surpass an arbitrary threshold to meet diagnostic criteria. PTSD means one’s symptoms are severe enough to create impairment in function and warrant the diagnosis. Those who cross the line into the diagnostic zone vary incredibly from highly functional and dealing with significant, silent internal turmoil to total, dysfunctional train wrecks.

“The train wrecks often have a complex trauma history, legitimate personality disorders (not the kind the military dishes out on DD-214s), comorbid conditions or just really severely disabling genuine PTSD.

“It is not a synonym for crazy, unstable, etc. Not to say someone swerving off the road because the dead armadillo suddenly has a bomb stuffed in it and the terrified driver in a moment confuses past with present appears to be a dangerous lunatic to others…yes, these things happen sometimes but these moments are usually very brief.  Even when I hear about reactive acts of violence when trauma triggers occur, it is almost always a spontaneous, immediate response to a (mis)perceived threat, not a sequence of calculated behaviors that result in a spree of violence.

Panjway-US-forces-8543cc1000Outpost in Panjwai

Every sane person is a psychologist. Tuning into ourselves and to others is an essential survival skill, though many of us believe that we are better psychologists, or more informed, than we really are.

To whit, less than a day after the Panjwai 17 massacre, before the suspect was named, we began debating whether or not he suffers from PTSD. The public did not know, and still does not know, whether the accused even committed the murders, or if he acted alone. An individual with PTSD will almost always not engage in a “sequence of calculated behaviors that result in a spree of violence,” as our psychologist explains above. In general, the mass media has failed to divine this attribute of PTSD, much less explain it to anyone.

Of course, from our side we will drag in PTSD, Lariam, traumatic brain injury, and no telling what else, and there may be truth to it.  The bottom line is that due to the circumstances, we have a predisposition to excuse mass murder.  We must wait to see what comes to trial.


The lawyer of the accused said that there is no forensic evidence, but if his client committed these crimes his footwear and his clothes should tell a story.  A forensics laboratory is 15 minutes from the crime scene at Kandahar Air Field (KAF).

image007-1000Robert Bales: charged with committing 17 murders in Panjwai

We harbor scant empathy for Afghan children who breathe interminable war, and who in many cases will see much more combat than our own troops. There were two more “green on blue” incidents yesterday (26 March, 2012) in Afghanistan. Afghans in two different provinces wearing friendly uniforms shot a total of three ISAF members to death. We will probably not wonder whether the shooters had PTSD.

Panjway-US-forces-8554cc1000US Forces in Panjwai

Weeks before the Panjwai massacre, I warned that something was coming. This is not voodoo, prognostication, or mere chance. It is more like a forest ranger who sees a hundred thousand acres of trees (or 91,000 troops), and no rain for a year.  No special skill is required to note the severe and growing fire hazard.

Panjway-US-forces-8669cc1000Most Afghan Security Forces do their jobs. It is incorrect to characterize them all as traitors, but it happened again, twice, yesterday.

Our troops are becoming disgusted and angry in what has gone from a promising start in Afghanistan, to something that many believe is a lost cause for an unthankful people who treacherously murder our own. President Karzai cannot be bothered to apologize.

Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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