The army heals itself

After returning from a mission, Polish soldiers need treatment: they have suicidal thoughts, neurosis, are afraid of crowds and noise. Some will never wear the uniform again.

The army heals itself

– “For the first few days after you get back, you’re lurking,” says Ensign Jaroslaw Zych, who just returned from Afghanistan after eight months of service on patrols, tells the Gazeta Wyborcza. – When I am shopping in a supermarket I feel that there are too many people. And when I see a crowd, I feel danger, I observe everyone around.

– Once a small car was driving down the street and its carburetor blew. I hid behind the nearest wall’, says to the journalist from ‘GW’, Jarosław Krysiński from the 12th Mechanized Brigade in Szczecin. He was twice in Iraq, now he’s in Afghanistan. – I didn’t even think about what I was doing and where I was. After a while I noticed the faces of the people around me, they looked at me like I was crazy. A friend who survived a landmine blast in Iraq came out unscathed, but his Hummer was riddled with holes. Now he went too, but behind a desk. He says that such luck may not happen again.

One in ten to a sanatorium

Such behavior after returning from a mission happens quite often – we read in “Gazeta”. They are called “combat stress syndrome”. – It is an increased excitability, which is combined with experiencing trauma or consciously running away from it. The soldier avoids watching “strong” movies, noise, the flight of a helicopter causes nervous reactions. People in the hospital run to the windows, although nothing can happen’, describes professor Stanisław Ilnicki, who heads the Psychiatry and Combat Stress Clinic in Warsaw. His patients have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

– Out of 29 beds in the ward at least one fourth is occupied all the time – admits professor Ilnicki.

Official figures from the Military Health Service Inspectorate say that over five years (ten shifts in Iraq), 43 soldiers – including two from the latest shift underway – have returned home early due to combat stress. But every tenth soldier goes to a sanatorium for mental recuperation after returning.

Alcohol as medicine

According to official army data, this concerns about one percent of all “missionaries”. – These are not complete data – claims professor Ilnicki in the interview with “Gazeta Wyborcza”. – There are no detailed statistics. Some soldiers are treated privately. Surveys conducted in other armies that go on missions give a higher percentage. I expect that in our army this percentage may be a few percent.

Some are treated at the Department of Psychiatry and Combat Stress for several weeks, others for years. These are usually the ones with the most traumatic experiences, like the death of a colleague who was riding in the same vehicle on patrol. – They come back here from time to time – says professor Ilnicki. – It happens that they have suicidal thoughts, depression, and alcohol is a serious problem with which they “cure” the stress after returning.

Not as much as in the US Army

Based on data compiled by military specialists from Finland, the professor estimates that “missionaries” are more likely than other soldiers to suffer heart attacks in the future, have suicidal thoughts and even get divorced more often.

The military admits that there is a problem. – We do not hide it – says “GW” the commander of the Land Forces General Waldemar Skrzypczak. – Some of these people will probably not return to service. These are the ones who are treated in the clinic for a long time. They have been on sick leave for a long time. But we certainly don’t have as many cases as the Americans. In their country, it is estimated that 5 percent of soldiers go for treatment.

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