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Idyli Tsakiri Karatzaferi/MEDILL

Psychologist John Mundt speaks on post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury in new veterans.

Veterans ‘with one foot in Chicago and one foot in the sandbox’ need help, understanding

by Idyli Tsakiri Karatzaferi
Mar 7, 2013

Idyli Tsakiri Karatzaferi/MEDILL

John Mundt explains how post traumatic stress disorder affects the lives of new veterans.

Related Links

DoD Conflict CasualtiesDepartment of Veteran Affairs ReportRAND Report

Terms defined

OEF: Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan

OIF: Operation Iraqi Freedom - Iraq

OND: Operation New Dawn - Iraq

DoD: Department of Defense

PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

TBI: Traumatic Brain Injury

Almost a third of the new veterans – those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq –
suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, not all of them have experienced attack in combat but a lot of them have experienced the injury or death of a friend.

PTSD affects their post-war lives, and experts say society and government need to understand that and act accordingly.

A 2008 report published by the Rand Corp.’s Center for Military Policy Research states that “PTSD is an anxiety disorder that occurs after a traumatic event in which a threat of serious injury or death was experienced or witnessed, and the individual’s response involved intense fear, helplessness or horror.”

Even a crowded train can make a veteran experience PTSD symptoms, according to John Mundt, a Chicago psychologist who works with veterans. When the troops during war have to constantly be aware of who is around them and whether those strangers have been searched for weapons to see whether they are a potential threat, then it can be challenging to deal with crowds after homecoming.

It is very difficult for many new veterans to leave their war experiences behind them, Mundt said. “I know a young woman who takes seven showers a day because she feels that she can’t get Iraq off of her.”

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, in Afghanistan there have been more than 1,700 U.S. military hostile deaths and, in Iraq, more than 3,500. As for the wounded in action, the numbers are a lot bigger: More than 32,000 in Iraq and more than 18,000 in Afghanistan.

“You’ve got to figure that for every one of these events, every one of these deaths or injuries, a lot of other troops saw this happen. They witnessed this awful thing,” Mundt said. “They may feel guilty about it, they may feel angry about it, they may not be able to get it out of their heads, but it’s going to affect them because these were their brothers and sisters who ended up making these statistics,” he added.

Since October 2001, more than 256,000 Afghanistan and Iraq veterans have been seen for potential PTSD after their homecoming, according to a 2012 report published by the office of public health, department of veteran affairs.

Homecoming is not a simple event but a crucial psychological process, Mundt said.

Homecoming starts when the troops start thinking about going home, have communication with their families about going home. “Expectations are getting set, people are making assumptions about what it’s going to be like when they get back home,” he added.

“It is a high-risk time,” Mundt said. “A lot of suicides, a lot of drunken driving accidents, a lot of arrests, a lot of domestic violence happens in that period of time when the troops have just come home from overseas.”