Posted on March 15, 2012 · Posted in Brain Injury

PTSD and Brain Injury May Have Contributed to Slayings

Last weekend when I heard that a U.S. staff sergeant was suspected of murdering 16 Afghan villagers — including women and children — in cold blood, I had a pretty good idea what had happened.

I suspected that this sergeant at some point had sustained traumatic brain injury (TBI), the so-called signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I assumed that he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I figured that he had done several tours of duty. And I wondered if anyone in his unit had recently been injured or killed.

I actually like to be proven wrong, but I was correct on this horrendous tragedy.

The suspect remains unidentified, but his lawyer, John Browne of Seattle, and an Army official spoke out and were quoted in a story in Thursday’s New York Times. The headline was “Accused G.I. ‘Snapped’ Under Strain, Official Says.”

The Army brass said that the suspect, a 38-year-old married dad of two, had been feeling stressed out as he was doing his fourth combat tour. He had done three tours in Iraq before being dispatched to Afghanistan. These deployments were apparently putting a strain on his marriage.

In addition, the suspect was drinking the night that he went out on his deadly rampage.

According to his lawyer Browne, the suspect during one of his tours had been an accident when his vehicle hit a bomb. He sustained a concussion in that accident.

And Browne also claimed that the suspect  had been upset that somebody in his unit had been “gravely injured,” according to Fox News.

I’m not trying to claim that every soldier who with TBI and PTSD goes mad and goes on a killing rampage. But for some service members, the stress and strain is just too much.

There was another special factor in this sergeant’s case. Several news stories have noted that the facility where the suspect had been based, Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash., has had numerous incidents of its soldiers committing violent acts.

The base, according to a story in The Colombian, was dubbed the Army’s “most troubled base” by Stars and Stripes newspaper. For example, soldiers from the base were involved in the slayings of three Afghans in separate instances in 2010.

Suicides at the base are on the rise but most importantly,  the Army is investigating whether the base’s Madigan Army Medical Center wrongly reversed PTSD diagnoses in soldiers.

That’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of the base’s past problems.

In 2010 Army specialist Brandon Barrett, a Lewis-McChord soldier, was shot and killed in Salt Lake City after he wounded a cop. That same year an alum of the base,  Robert Quinones, held several people hostage in Georgia, saying he needed mental-health treatment.

And this year a man once stationed at Lewis-McChord, Benjamin Barnes, murdered a ranger in Mount Rainier National Park.

Browne said that his client didn’t want to go on another tour of duty. There appear to be obvious reasons why he should not have been redeployed.

The bottom line is that despite what the military says about making a real effort to treat TBI and PTSD in its combat vets, it’s looking more and more like lip service, not action.

And so we have 16 innocent people slaughtered in Afghanistan.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447