A Secret War, Strange New Wounds, and Silence From the Pentagon

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From The New York Times: “When Javier Ortiz came home from a secret mission in Syria, the ghost of a dead girl appeared to him in his kitchen. She was pale and covered in chalky dust, as if hit by an explosion, and her eyes stared at him with a glare as dark and heavy as oil.

The 21-year-old Marine was part of an artillery gun crew that fought against the Islamic State, and he knew that his unit’s huge cannons had killed hundreds of enemy fighters. The ghost, he was sure, was their revenge.

A shiver went through him. He backed into another room in his apartment near Camp Pendleton in California and flicked on the lights, certain that he was imagining things. She was still there.

A few days later, in the barracks not far away, a 22-year-old Marine named Austin Powell pounded on his neighbor’s door in tears and stammered: ‘There’s something in my room! I’m hearing something in my room!’

His neighbor, Brady Zipoy, 20, searched the room but found nothing.

‘It’s all right — I’ve been having problems, too,’ Lance Corporal Zipoy said, tapping his head. The day before, he bent down to tie his boots and was floored by a sudden avalanche of emotion so overwhelming and bizarre that he had no words for it. ‘We’ll go see the doc,’ he told his friend. ‘We’ll get help.’

. . . An investigation by The New York Times found that many of the troops sent to bombard the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017 returned to the United States plagued by nightmares, panic attacks, depression and, in a few cases, hallucinations. Once-reliable Marines turned unpredictable and strange. Some are now homeless. A striking number eventually died by suicide, or tried to.

. . . A few gun-crew members were eventually given diagnoses of P.T.S.D., but to the crews that didn’t make much sense. They hadn’t, in most cases, even seen the enemy. The only thing remarkable about their deployments was the sheer number of artillery rounds they had fired.

. . . Military guidelines say that firing all those rounds is safe. What happened to the crews suggests that those guidelines were wrong.

The cannon blasts were strong enough to hurl a 100-pound round 15 miles, and each unleashed a shock wave that shot through the crew members’ bodies, vibrating bone, punching lungs and hearts, and whipping at cruise-missile speeds through the most delicate organ of all, the brain.

More than a year after Marines started experiencing problems, the Marine Corps leadership [ordered] a study of one of the hardest-hit units, Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines . . . the report, published in 2019, made a startling finding: The gun crews were being hurt by their own weapons.

. . . The military did not seem to be taking the threat seriously, the briefing cautioned: Safety training — both for gun crews and medical personnel — was so deficient, it said, that the risks of repeated blast exposure ‘are seemingly ignored.’

Despite the concerns raised in the report, no one appears to have warned the commanders responsible for the gun crews. And no one told the hundreds of troops who had fired the rounds.

Instead, in case after case, the military treated the crews’ combat injuries as routine psychiatric disorders, if they treated them at all. Troops were told they had attention deficit disorder or depression. Many were given potent psychotropic drugs that made it hard to function and failed to provide much relief.

Others who started acting strangely after the deployments were simply dismissed as problems, punished for misconduct and forced out of the military in punitive ways that cut them off from the veterans’ health care benefits that they now desperately need.

The Marine Corps has never commented publicly on the findings of the study. It declined to say who ordered it or why, and would not make the staff members who conducted it available for interviews. Officers who were in charge of the artillery batteries declined to comment for this article, or did not respond to interview requests.

The silence has left the affected veterans to try to figure out for themselves what is happening.

Many never have.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. “Instead, in case after case, the military treated the crews’ combat injuries as routine psychiatric disorders, if they treated them at all. Troops were told they had attention deficit disorder or depression. Many were given potent psychotropic drugs that made it hard to function and failed to provide much relief.”

    It’s heartbreaking the US government, via psychiatrists, have been DSM defaming and psych drugging our veterans for decades. Back in the day, Americans built affordable housing for our returning veterans … like a community I used to live near, that was built by my mom’s childhood backyard neighbor.

    It breaks my heart to see all the homeless veterans now. Thanks and love to US veterans this Veteran’s day. But, I must admit, I’ve personally never been a fan of war.

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  2. What the neuropathologist expert describes as injury in cannoneer veterans sounds like a mild repetitive form of shacken baby syndrome.

    And they did find tiny scars, called gliosis, in the brains of deceased veterans with the symptoms. Too small to be imaged, but detectable under the microcoscope.

    So what they experience is actualy an organic brain disease, not a psychiatric one. It is a neurological disease caused by shacking the cells inside the brain fast and hard enough to cause long term damage, that leaves tiny scars inside the brain.

    What suprised me is how varied the manifestation of that was: so called anxiety, so called depression, and more interestingly shocking visual hallucinations.

    Visual hallucination were historically considered suspect for brain disease, they were not considered characteristic of “schizophrenia”, those are more auditory, and in many diagnosed are “pseudohallucinations” of the auditory kind, i.e. voices in your head…not real hallucinations as shocking to many sufferers might sound.

    Intrussive thoughts of OCD can be as shocking, and are not hallucinations, because they are framed as that: intrussive thoughts.

    Whilst voices in one’s head are framed as that: hallucinations. It’s a framing issue, not a medical issue. As in framing patients with something they don’t have, and against the medical clinical science that studies and describes symptoms and signs for real diseases: clinical semiology.

    Another surprise to me, is how well many of the victims handled their visual hallucinations, that is in contrast to the rhetoric of schizophrenia as being a global some times progressive disease. Granted, bad outcomes happened, but apparently because inadequate medical care, not stated as medical or psychiatrical.

    This is a brain disease, a traumatic one, and does not seem to progress, according to the NYTimes piece, as far as I understood and recall.

    Delusions of beng transported to the moon might happen to explain the visual hallucinations…as a rational attempt to explain unusual, extraordinary experience, not as loosing one’s reason. Contrary to the dominant rhetoric of psychiatry to explain delusions: a broken thing.

    It’s the use of reason to explain a “failure” of the senses. Not psychiatry’s lost reason let loose on everyone within it’s reach.

    So, it does suggest that brain injury, not soul/moral/mental trauma, can have various forms of “expressing” the brain injury. Just psychiatry hasn’t proove that for over a century and a half, whilst neuropathology did in this case, in less than 10yrs…

    Bravo for neuropathology, boooh! for psychiatry.

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