According to scientists, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder not only affects the brain’s physical composition. It also changes hormone secretion and overall neurochemistry.
After they endure stressful situations, for people without PTSD, the body returns to homeostasis, which is a self-regulating system that our bodies use to return to stability. That is not the case for someone living with PTSD symptoms. Feelings of stress and being on high alert can persist for long periods, usually days, months, or even years.
PTSD is born from traumatic experiences, though no one type of trauma will automatically result in PTSD. Common sources include combat, abuse, accidents, and experiencing natural disasters. Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD. Researchers do not know why some people develop PTSD and others do not. However, a previous history of mental illness, a lack of a support system, and childhood can increase the chances of developing PTSD.
Along with changes in brain structure, there are also changes in the brain’s neurochemistry. Trauma affects the Hypothalamo-Pituitary-Adrenal system, resulting in neuroendocrine dysregulation. Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol increase while oxytocin decreases.
PTSD Over the Last Century
World War I changed combat in ways that are difficult for us to imagine. The Great War also changed the way soldiers respond to combat, once again in ways that are difficult for even doctors to fathom.
Artillery is a good example. You have probably noticed that soldiers up to the Civil War era wore fabric caps. Primarily, that was because, in those days, most field howitzers used picric acid, a chemical compound that is similar to the one in fireworks. So, unless a shell burst directly over a soldier’s head, there was little risk of injury.
Around 1900, the German Imperial Army switched to TNT, a much more explosive compound that is still used today. Most of the world’s other armies quickly followed suit. When a shell burst, the shrapnel could devastate an entire line of attacking soldiers.
TNT was just the beginning. Armies also freely used machine guns and poison gas, which in those days were weapons of mass destruction.
But when doctors diagnosed traumatized soldiers, they did not take these things into account. Therefore, according to the prevailing medical view, soldiers with “shell shock” just needed a little rest, then they were good to go again.
For some reason, the large number of serious “shell shock” cases did not prompt doctors to do additional research. Instead, in World War II, “shell shock” became “battle fatigue.” Up to half of all patients in military field hospitals were battle fatigue patients. Once again, doctors believed that after a little rest, it was once more unto the breach, dear friends.
By the Vietnam War, most doctors believed that PTSD was a legitimate brain injury. However, it was a “processing disorder” that randomly affected some soldiers and not others. Furthermore, this processing disorder often turned these individuals into PTSD monsters. So, this new attitude was basically another step backward.
Southwest Asia PTSD
Iraq and Afghanistan changed the way doctors view PTSD yet again. Almost half of these Southwest Asia veterans, and not just half the wounded veterans, returned home with brain injuries. Frequently, the brain injury victim sustained no obvious trauma injury. So, doctors finally took a closer look.
Upon closer inspection, doctors discovered that extreme stress altered brain chemistry. This stress enlarges the amygdala and shrinks the cerebral cortex. Why is that important? The amygdala controls emotional responses and the cerebral cortex controls logical responses. Therefore, these individuals cannot react logically to stressful situations. Instead, they have recurring symptoms like:
- Anger, and
Like other brain injuries, PTSD is permanent. Surgery alleviates some of the symptoms and therapy reduces these symptoms even further. Generally, therapists show PTSD patients how to avoid triggering events. This combination makes life manageable for victims and their families. But it does not give them their lives back completely.
A Defense Base Act attorney cannot give victims and their families their lives back either. But a DBA attorney obtains the compensation these victims need to get the treatment they need.
Injury Compensation Available
Contractors who developed PTSD in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and in other Southwest Asia wars are not the only victims who are eligible for Defense Base Act compensation. Any injured contractor who worked in a war zone is eligible for life-changing benefits, like medical bill payment and lost wage replacement.
Any contractor means any contractor. Most private military contractors work for the State Department or the Defense Department. However, they could work for any other government agency as well. Individuals like Peace Corps volunteers are also eligible for DBA benefits.
On a related note, U.S. citizenship or even residency is not a requirement. Many contractors are translators. These individuals are usually noncitizens and nonresidents. The paperwork is a little more complicated, but a DBA lawyer can still obtain benefits in these situations.
On another related note, the contractor need not work for the U.S. government. Some contractors who work for sympathetic foreign governments are also eligible for the aforementioned compensation.
Additionally, the injury need not be directly related to the victim’s deployment. That is one feature that makes DBA benefits different from workers’ compensation benefits. Assume Rick is hurt in a bomb blast while he is shopping at a local market. Workers’ compensation probably would not apply, since his injury was not directly job-related. However, there is an indirect connection between his deployment and his injury. Rick probably wouldn’t have been in that market if he hadn’t been deployed in that area.
This rule mimics the VA disability rule for service-related connections. These rules are similar because VA disability and DBA compensation have similar functions.
Finally, the “war zone” requirement doesn’t mean an active war zone. Many countries have a limited U.S. military presence, like guards at an embassy or consulate. That presence is enough to make the country a “war zone” for DBA purposes.
For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.