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U.S. Military
Iraq Brings PTSD Relapse for Vietnam Vets
Evening News Coverage Can Spark Traumatic Memories
05/28/2007 3:28 PM ET
Win McNamee/Getty

In a little-discussed phenomenon, an article out of Louisville, Kentucky today profiles a Vietnam war vet who suffered a PTSD relapse from watching coverage of the Iraq war.

Combat veteran John Gilmore says that nightly news footage out of Iraq unearths memories he has tried to keep buried, such as the image of a friend dying in front of him after losing his legs and an arm. Turning off the TV doesn't turn off the memories, he told the Courier-Journal's Laura Ungar.

"Is it coincidence that he just underwent his third (post-traumatic stress disorder) treatment during this (Iraq) war?" asked his wife, Lydia. "Probably not."

Ungar reports that mental health experts have said Iraq is a common trigger for post-traumatic stress disorder flare-ups among veterans from all conflicts.

"It opens it up again," said Dr. James Bland, a Lebanon, Ky., psychiatrist who treats the disorder.

Gilmore has gotten treatment, and hopes his story and experience will help other troops suffering from war-related mental trauma.

This spring, Gilmore got help at the Lexington (Ky.) VA Medical Center, which has a 15-bed residential PTSD program that provides psychotherapy, support groups, 12-step programs and other services. Tom Shirling, clinical coordinator for that program, said the goal is to improve a patient's functioning in everyday life.

Gilmore said the treatment was more about coping with memories than sharing them, and was a great help. He's now back at his counseling job -- and has heard some of those veterans say Iraq has brought relapses of PTSD for them, too.

But it has also prompted some Vietnam vets to seek care, by raising awareness of the disorder and removing some of the stigma.

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