25-year-old Sgt. Dionisio Garza went from twice-decorated war hero to a mass shooter because of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, his mother claimed in an interview. “I saw him go from 0 to 100 in probably three days,” Michelle Garza remarked.
At first, Garza’s behavior was simply erratic. He broke into a Metro Houston auto parts store, where he stayed all night. Shortly thereafter, the Afghanistan veteran gathered over 200 rounds of ammunition and shot seven people, killing one of them. Then, he turned a gun on himself. Ms. Garza said that many veterans do not get the support they need. “One of the moms [of the victims] reached out to me. Her son was military. She didn’t blame him for her son being shot,” Garza said. “I found comfort being around people who understand veterans, that don’t look at my son like a monster.”
According to one study, suicide kills four times as many military veterans as armed combat.
What Causes PTSD?
The symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder vary significantly in different cases. Some people begin dealing with hypervigilance, depression, anger, and other symptoms almost as soon as they go through a traumatic combat or non-combat event. Frequently, these individuals self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs. That approach might help for a little while, but it eventually does considerable damage to their fragile psyches.
Other times, as in the above story, the victim seems relatively fine for weeks, months, or even years. Then, everything falls apart.
However, PTSD has a common cause. Contrary to popular myth, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not a processing disorder which randomly affects some people. Rather, it is a physical brain injury which affects everyone. It is just that different people have different symptoms, as mentioned above.
The cause is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Extreme stress, like combat or a car crash, enlarges the amygdala. This part of the brain controls emotional responses. When the amygdala swells, the cerebral cortex, which is next door, shrinks. This part of the brain controls logical responses.
So, PTSD is a bit like a rider on a wild pony. As long as the rider controls the pony, everything is fine. But if the rider (the cerebral cortex) lets go of the reins, the pony (amygdala) runs amok. The chemical imbalance causes the aforementioned symptoms.
Because of this science, the Canadian Armed Forces recently replaced the PTSD designation with OSI, or Operational Stress Injury. OSI victims are eligible for Canada’s version of a Purple Heart.
PTSD and Military Service
However, the DoD has been slow to recognize this change. Many military brass still consider PTSD to be something like shell shock, which was its World War I designation, or battle fatigue, its World War II designation.
The military PTSD connection goes back much further than that. In the Civil War, when soldiers displayed PTSD symptoms, doctors often diagnosed them with nostalgia, which was basically a very advanced form of homesickness. GIven the primitive medical technology at the time, this diagnosis was not too bad. Many Union soldiers especially were extremely far from home. Most of them had probably never left their hometowns before.
Doctors further believed that that cure for nostalgia was a vigorous offensive campaign which distracted the soldiers from their homesickness. Ironically, these kinds of offensive operations probably caused their maladies in the first place.
The first recorded case of combat-related PTSD was probably in 490 B.C. after the Battle of Marathon between the Greeks and Persians. The historian Herodotus documented the case of a Greek soldier known only as Epizelus. Although surgeons could find nothing physically wrong with him, Epizelus said he lost his sight after a brush with a Persian soldier. According to Herodotus, “He said that a gigantic warrior, with a huge beard, which shaded all his shield, stood over against him. But the ghostly semblance passed him by, and slew the man at his side.” The soldier never saw anything again.
To this day, doctors are not sure whether the cumulative effects of combat-related stress cause PTSD, or if it must be an extremely traumatic one-time event.
As the understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has improved, the treatments have improved, as well. But there are some issues. Transportation is a good example. PTSD treatment availability varies significantly in different areas. Fortunately, the Defense Base Act covers these transportation expenses. And, DBA victims may choose their own doctors. So, once victims find effective doctors. They can keep going to them as much as needed.
In a few cases, however, one treatment might be enough. Clinical trials involving 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, or ecstacy) have been encouraging. In as little as one dose, MDMA can effectively alleviate many PTSD symptoms. Obviously, a doctor must closely supervise these treatments. Although MDMA is a commonly-available party drug, PTSD patients should never self-medicate.
Usually, however, PTSD treatment involves long-term therapy. Many patients benefit from both individual and group therapy. Other medications are available, as well. Frequently, doctors must closely and continually observe these victims, at least for a while.
Progress usually comes in fits and starts. The victim might plateau for months and then experience a sudden breakthrough. So, it is important for an attorney to continually advocate for victims, so the money keeps flowing and they get the treatment they need.
Injury Compensation Available
Most injured contractors qualify for Defense Base Act benefits. The key requirements are broadly defined.
First, as mentioned, the victim must have a physical injury. The same rule applies in other injury-related matters, such as a vehicle collision. A near-miss, no matter how much emotional distress it causes, is usually not actionable in court.
Next, the injury must occur in an overseas war zone. Overseas locations are basically anywhere outside the 50 states. Guam and Guantanamo Bay are overseas locations for DBA purposes, even though they are technically part of the United States. Furthermore, any country with any American military presence is a war zone. That presence could be something as small as a guard at an embassy.
Finally, there must be a nexus (direct or indirect connection) between the deployment and the injury. This rule is similar to the service-related rule for VA disability benefits. If Sam is hurt in a car crash, even if the crash was off-base and not related to the deployment, VA or, in this case, DBA compensation is usually available.
On a related note, the injury need not occur on the clock. That’s usually a requirement in workers’ compensation cases, but not in DBA claims.
For more information about DBA procedure, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.