The March 11 massacre of 17 Afghan villagers that resulted in Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to be accused of the crime has raised concerns about the military’s handling of soldiers and post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs web site, “post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health problem that can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like war, assault, or disaster.”
The site gives a description of how PTSD is diagnosed and measured via a PTSD Checklist or PCL. The PCL is a 17-item self-report for the purpose of screening, diagnosing, and monitoring symptom change during and after treatment of the disorder.
Another evaluating method is the Pre-Deployment Health Assessment. According to the military web site armyg1.army.mil, there are three comprehensive health screenings that take place pre-deployment, post-deployment, and one final reassessment taken 90-180 days after redeployment.
While these methods appear to provide concrete evidence of PTSD, both assessments require honest participation in order for accurate testing. That is where flaws in the evaluation of PTSD may lie.
Because the assessments are meant to be self-reported, participants may choose to provide answers that satisfy social norms, thus making it difficult to determine an underlying mental health disorder.
There needs be a deeper evaluation of participants’ mental health during the pre- and post-deployment phase. If the military does not look into the important aspects of a soldier’s life outside of the war, they may not catch the red flags that come to light after a war crime has been committed.
In the case of Bales, there are reports surfacing that he did not lead a stable civilian life prior to the massacre. According to a March 18, 2012 article in The New York Times, Bales has been arrested for assaulting a woman, attended anger-management counseling, and struggled financially in between four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
While the military requires honest participation from soldiers, it does not always provide an honest diagnosis. PTSD may be covered up with the right responses during an evaluation but public records of a less-than-perfect past cannot. With a more well-rounded evaluation of each soldier, the risk of committing a crime linked to PTSD may be greatly reduced.
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