Post-war Trauma (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 23, March 3, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. 'Just keep debating the war if you want to make sure that soldiers don't heal' The former head of the IDF Mental Health Department Col. (res.) Haim Knobler expects to see thousands of cases of battle trauma among soldiers who fought in the Second Lebanon War With the publication of the long awaited Winograd Report, the lessons of the Second Lebanon War are the focus of fierce public debate. One of the war's costs may take years to assess: the number of soldiers suffering from battle trauma. To date, some 600 have sought help from mental health specialists. But Knobler believes the number may actually be in the thousands, and that the continuing public debate over the war is, in fact, delaying the recovery of many traumatized soldiers. Knobler is one of the founding members of the Organization for the Support of Shell Shock Casualties, a non-profit organization made up of high-ranking retired army personnel and headed by Col. (res.) Uri Segal. Earlier this month, the High Court of Justice heard a petition filed by the organization, demanding that the Ministry of Defense extend the period - now limited to three years - in which soldiers are eligible to file claims for trauma injuries endured in battle. To date, the Ministry has recognized some 5,000 cases of battle trauma from all of Israel's wars. But Dr. Knobler, 53, maintains that studies suggest the real number of traumatized soldiers is probably as much as three times as high. The Jerusalem Report: Why are you asking to extend the period in which a soldier can claim a trauma injury? Haim Knobler: If a soldier loses a leg in battle, it's reasonable to expect him to submit a claim shortly after the incident. But the nature of trauma injuries is such that they may only surface years and even decades after the incident. In such cases, the three-year limitation, stipulated by the Defense Ministry, is meaningless and prevents huge numbers of afflicted soldiers from receiving the aid that they deserve. What are the symptoms of a trauma injury? The person repeatedly reexperiences the most frightening part of the traumatic incident, including the sights, sounds and smells that accompanied it - either through terrifying nightmares or during waking periods. Some respond by avoiding almost all stimuli, and stop functioning socially and professionally. A person may avoid the workplace because the noise there reminds him of the sounds of battle. Others overreact to anxiety, and have outbursts of anger and violence, sometimes directed at family members. When trauma is chronic, it is one of the most severe psychological disorders there is - what we refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). How treatable is it? Many traumatized soldiers heal spontaneously with time. Others seek help from experts, in particular from the IDF's Combat Reaction Unit, which is one of the top treatment centers in the world for such disorders. But there are some who do not fully recover ever, and go through life with a disability that is not as apparent as an amputated leg, but often far more disabling. These soldiers may approach the Ministry of Defense after years of unsuccessful attempts at recovery only to be told that it's too late: They should have filed a claim earlier. In fact, we are now beginning to see many new cases of trauma from the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The reason is that these people are approaching retirement. While they may have coped reasonably well with trauma as long as they were busy, they find it much more difficult to cope when they have more free time to think. In addition, seeing their children drafted into the army can trigger a relapse of their own battle trauma. Extract from an article in Issue 23, March 3, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.