SAN FRANCISCO - The emotional ravages of war are at issue following the surrender to military officials of Specialist Darrell Anderson, a decorated U.S. soldier who fled to Canada rather than return to Iraq.
Anderson, who won a Purple Heart for taking shrapnel to protect the rest of his unit from a roadside bomb, turned himself in at Fort Knox, Kentucky on Tuesday after seeking refuge in Canada.
Anderson's mother and lawyer anticipated that the U.S. Army would spare him harsh punishment and instead allow him to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While military officials had yet to pronounce their final decision as of Wednesday, Anderson's case highlighted what veterans' advocates identified as the challenge of tending to returning warriors' emotional wounds.
''The bottom line must be to make sure that the new generation of returning veterans gets the assistance and clinical interventions they need, so that they don't develop chronic PTSD,'' John Rowan, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in a statement.
For his part, Anderson said he deserted last year because he could no longer fight in what he believes is an illegal war.
''I feel that by resisting I made up for the things I did in Iraq,'' he told reporters before turning himself in. ''I feel I made up for the sins I committed in this war.''
Anderson said that in April 2004, he was ordered to shoot at a car full of civilians. The vehicle had sped through a U.S. military checkpoint and his commander said it was Army procedure to fire on any vehicle than ran through a traffic stop. Anderson refused the order.
''Events like that just kept occurring, until one day I saw a couple of my fellow soldiers get hit and I pulled my trigger while pointing it at an innocent child,'' Anderson told Pacifica Radio. ''But my weapon was on safe, and then I realized what I was doing, and I just realized that no matter how good you believe you are, when you?re there, that you?re eventually -- you know, the evil in this is going to take over, and you?re going to kill people.''
After Anderson's unit left Iraq, he ran away to Canada rather than return for a second tour of duty in Iraq. He stayed there until last weekend, when his mother, Anita Anderson, picked him up in Toronto and drove him back to Kentucky.
She described it as a difficult drive.
"In Iraq, he rode around in Humvees and tanks having people take shots at him all day long," she told OneWorld. "So he doesn't do well in vehicles and he definitely doesn't sleep in them.''
''Soldiers can't go to sleep when they're out patrolling the city looking for land-mines and IEDs,'' she added, referring to improvised explosive devices.
A new report in this month's issue of the American Journal of Phychiatry found that large numbers of returning soldiers suffer from PTSD. Those like Anderson, who suffered severe physical injuries, often developed PTSD within seven months of being hurt.
Among injured soldiers, researchers found that after one month, 4.2 percent had probable PTSD and 4.4 percent had depression; at 4 months, 12.2 percent had PTSD and 8.9 percent suffered from depression; at 7 months, 12 percent had PTSD and 9.3 percent had depression.
''We can't send our sons off to war when we know that some of them will come back wounded emotionally,'' Anderson's mother said. ''We can't just brush them under the rug like we did in Vietnam.''
The comparison to Vietnam could prove fitting.
''Given the nature of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, VVA has no reason to believe that the rate of PTSD for veterans of [Iraq and Afghanistan] will be any less than that of Vietnam veterans,'' said Rowan, the organization's president.
''No one really knows how many of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been or will be adversely affected by their wartime experiences,'' he said. "Despite early intervention by psychological personnel, no one can project how serious their emotional and mental problems will become, or how chronic will be both the neuro-psychiatric wounds and their impact on physical health.''
According to an analysis published by the journal Science in August, 18.7 percent of Vietnam veterans had experienced PTSD and nearly one out of every 10 veterans of the war in Southeast Asia still suffered from chronic and disabling symptoms more than 10 years after the war had ended. In 2004, the government continued to compensate 217,893 for PTSD, more than the total number of U.S. troops stationed in Iraq.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A person having a flashback may lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening all over again.
Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.
People with PTSD have persistent flashbacks of their ordeal while awake and in nightmares, according to the government institute. They often feel emotionally numb, especially with people to whom they once were close. They may be easily startled and lose interest in things they used to enjoy. Some sufferers become aggressive or violent.
Copyright © 2006 OneWorld.net.