Could traumatic brain injury explain soldier’s killing spree?
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) may have played a role in one U.S. soldier’s unprovoked massacre of 16 Afghan citizens early Sunday morning, according to numerous reports of the horrific incident coming out of the Middle East.
Investigators are trying to determine why the Army-trained sniper left his post in Camp Belambay, Afghanistan in the middle of the night and walked more than a mile south to a village where he methodically entered private homes and opened fire on their occupants. In one home, four family members were killed. In a second home, the soldier killed three adults and eight children. The soldier then gunned down another villager in a different town near his base before calmly turning himself in to his superiors.
According to CNN, the soldier was assigned to the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd infantry Division, stationed near Tacoma, Washington. He is 38 years old and has a wife and children. He was serving his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he arrived in early January, after having completed three tours in Iraq.
In 2010, during his last Iraq deployment, the soldier was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury after he was involved in a vehicle rollover crash. Reports say the man received advanced treatments for his TBI at Fort Lewis and subsequently was declared fit for duty. According to ABC News, the soldier has undergone routine behavioral health screening since he was cleared to become a sniper in 2008.
Despite his clean bill of health and clearances, the soldier was having trouble reintegrating into normal life after his last Iraq tour and was experiencing marital problems. Military officials concluded, however, that he had resolved those problems before he was deployed to Afghanistan.
Traumatic brain injuries are complex and often elusive injuries that can occur when a blow, bump, or jolt to the head or body cause the brain to shake or knock against the cranium, causing chemical changes and damaging cells. Aggression, hostility, mood swings, depression and confusion are just some of the many neurological symptoms of TBI, which range drastically in severity and treatability.
Whether Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) played a role in the soldier’s killing spree is unknown. Paul Newhouse, a professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and a former Army psychiatrist told CNN that “Post-traumatic stress disorder has a cluster of symptoms, and violence, or violence against others is not usually considered part of that diagnosis.”
However, there are some indications that a concurrence of PTSD and TBI may cause victims to experience negative behavioral changes. The Department of Defense estimates that 20 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered a concussion, a form of mild traumatic brain injury, while deployed — a staggering statistic that has led to TBI being dubbed the “signature wound” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Of those, between 5 percent to nearly 50 percent suffer both PTSD and lingering problems from traumatic brain injuries. Some experts believe the TBI/PTSD combination is a new epidemic that may warrant a name and a treatment of its own when doctors can understand it better.
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