PTSD -- Is mental armor possible?
December 20, 2013
"The US Army is extremely good at training Soldiers in the eight forms of contact and getting them to perform those actions automatically. We do not prepare them, however, for the actual traumatic events that occur when engaging in combat."
-- SGM Ogden, PEO STRI and CSM (R) Rhodes, Author "Battle with PTSD"
ARLINGTON, VA (Dec. 20, 2013) -- The news has been dominated by tragic accounts of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD, from both Soldier and Civilian communities. PTSD is a reaction to experiencing or witnessing one or more terrible events, and can result from many different kinds of exposures: combat, rape, physical assault, earthquakes, and national disasters. Numerous studies have been conducted with efforts focused on the successful treatment of PTSD. The Army is trying to determine if Soldiers could be taught how to build mental armor that would discourage PTSD, as opposed to having it treated after symptoms appear.
The goal of optimizing human performance and discouraging PTSD is the number one focus of the Army Study Program Management Office, or ASPMO, in the 2014 Army Study Program, or ASP. The study was ranked as the program's first priority during the FY2014 Army Scoring Conference in August, and builds off of the analysis and findings of the FY13 ASP number one ranked study, "TADSS [Training Aids, Devices, Simulators, and Simulations] Integration and Technology Insertion Roadmap to Achieve Squad Overmatch."
The FY13 Study produced a training concept and technology insertion roadmap to enhance training techniques and technologies in order to develop squads that are more resilient, lethal, and adaptive. Working with findings from key sources such as the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Army Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Program, and the Army Ready and Resilience Campaign among others, the study team successfully identified resilience, mental, and situational awareness skills that, if exercised in conjunction with traditional warrior skills, would yield more optimal human performance and possibly discourage PTSD and suicide. The team was also able to identify optimal infusions of technologies into existing TADSS to exercise the full spectrum of skills.
The objective of the FY14 Study, titled "Design, Implement, and Demonstrate Integrated Training to Optimize Human Performance and Discourage PTSD and Suicide," is to demonstrate how to train the Soldier to recognize and apply learned techniques to manage psychological stress experienced in a combat-realistic, controlled, repeatable, and reviewable simulated environment while exercising warrior skills. The focus is on discouragement of, as opposed to treatment of PTSD. The study aims to develop an instructional approach and a graduated stress exposure model for integrated training.
The Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, or PEO-STRI, is the Study Sponsor Command in partnership with The MITRE Corporation, for both the FY13 and FY14 studies. The team ascertains that this approach will begin a new era of training focused on the development of resilience fitness. By developing skills that promote resilience against stress and trauma, Soldiers will be better prepared to recognize and cope with situations that could lead to PTSD and suicide.
"Our current training continuum does not expose Soldiers to the level of stress they will endure in combat," said Sgt. Maj. Pat Ogden of PEO-STRI. "We must infuse resilience and coping skills into our training scenarios to force consistent use and exposure. We must prepare our men and women to accept and adapt to stress - rather than reject its effects - by providing visual, audio, olfactory, and tactile stimuli in graduated increments during training."
In addition to the potential life-saving benefits of this study, the analysis directly supports the Army's Ready and Resilient Campaign objective of Soldier Resilience, the methods to be employed in the study approach complement the Army's existing warrior training and the study applies to four of the five Strategic Priorities released recently by Chief of Staff. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.
Priority one, "Adaptive Army Leaders for a Complex World", includes "fostering the individual toughness, battlefield skill and fighting spirit that have always typified the American Soldier." Priority three, "A Ready and Modern Army", includes "conducting tough, realistic multi-echelon home station training utilizing our live, virtual, and constructive capabilities to efficiently and effectively assure individual, leader, and unit competencies." Building the comprehensive physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual resiliency of our Soldiers, Civilians and their Families to enable them to thrive personally and professionally and preserving the highest possible quality of life, on our installations, and wherever Soldiers serve and live, are encompassed within the final two priorities: "Soldiers Committed to Our Army Profession" and "The Premier All Volunteer Army".
PTSD is a serious concern for the Department of Defense. It occurs in three to six percent of service members with no deployment experience and in five to 25 percent of service members who have been deployed to combat zones, with combat frequency and intensity being among the strongest predictors of the condition.
According to a June 2012, Army.mil article, "among civilians, some 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women have suffered at least one traumatic event, and of those, eight percent of men and twenty percent of women will develop PTSD". At a rate, according to data from the Veteran's Administration, of 325 Army suicides annually, each at a monetary cost of $450K in addition to the devastating loss of life, this study will provide a 100% financial return on investment if two lives are saved.
PEO-STRI welcomes outreach from any organizations that are interested in partnering or co-sponsoring this important work. To contact PEO-STRI for this purpose, contact the Chief Engineer, Live Training Systems, Mr. Brian Kemper at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the Army Study Program Management Office and the Army Study Program FY14 priorities, visit us on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/ArmyStudies.