25 March 2009

Germans, Americans compare notes on PTSD programs

Reinhold Robbe, ombudsman of the German Parliament for the German army, right, talks with Capt. Monica Offenbacher-Looney, commander of the Medical Transient Detachment, during a recent visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Robbe was touring the hospital to see how U.S. doctors handle post-traumatic stress cases. The German military has seen a significant rise in PTSD cases in recent years. Photo and story: Marcus Klöckner/S&S

German Army PTSD cases on rise

The number of German army soldiers being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder has tripled in the past two years, echoing a rise in such cases among the ranks of U.S. soldiers.

While their numbers still pale in comparison to reported cases of PTSD in the U.S. military, 245 German soldiers were treated for the disorder last year, up from 83 soldiers in 2006, according to statistics recently released by the German Defense Ministry. Nearly 14,000 U.S. soldiers were treated for PTSD in 2007, the most recent figures available.

There are about 3,400 German army troops in Afghanistan, where most German PTSD cases originate, the Deutsche Welle news service reported on its Web site. About 62,000 Germans have been stationed in war zones in the past three years, but the German army, in general, has not gone through as many combat situations as the U.S. military. That is one of the reasons why there is such an increase of PTSD cases in the German army.

In light of the increase in cases among German soldiers, Reinhold Robbe — the ombudsman of the German parliament for the German army — toured Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to see how U.S. doctors are dealing with the disorder.

Robbe said he came away deeply impressed after his five-hour visit.

The U.S. military has more experience in treating soldiers with PTSD because America has been involved in several wars over the past decades, he said.

"The U.S. government provides financial aid to the soldiers the German army can only dream of," Robbe said. "But, we also have to consider that the U.S. society does have a different relation to the military and the soldiers than we in Germany because of our World War II history."

Robbe also has a personal connection to the disorder, he said.

His father suffered from PTSD when he returned home from World War II. He died because of the problems the disorder caused, he said.

"I have to confess that there are certainly emotions involved, and this is one of the reasons why I want to help the soldiers who are confronted with PTSD."

A German Soldier shared his experience, which began in Kosovo in 2004.

"I worked a 60-hour shift, and at the end, I was burned out completely," he said in a telephone interview. "I went to a M.A.S.H. unit to visit an Italian soldier who got hurt.

"I saw all these wounded policemen, soldiers, civilians, young children, women and men," he said. "Then I saw this old woman, I think she was 90 or so. Her face was covered with blood and you saw someone must have beaten her brutally. Our eyes met and there was this look in her eyes asking me: ‘Why have you not done anything (to help me)?’ "

It took about a month for the effect of that day to hit him, [former German Army Captain Andreas] Eckert said.

"I had loss of hearing within a very short period of time," he said. "The doctor asked me if I had gone through a trauma, and I told him about it. He sent me to psychiatry and PTSD was diagnosed."

That was in early 2005. That incident changed his life, he said. He suffered panic attacks and had trouble sleeping. Basically, his life was turned upside down, he said.

In addition to fighting the problems associated with the disorder, he also was faced with the fact that some people close to him didn’t understand what he was going through, he said.

"My wife supported me greatly. She informed herself about PTSD," Eckert said. "But my father, also a former soldier, thought I was pushing it too far.

"Often he’d say something like: ‘When will you get back to work again? Do you not think that it is enough?’ "

Today, more than three years later, Eckert said he feels a lot better. Nevertheless, the battle is still not won.

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