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The Best Reporting on Mental Trauma and the U.S. Military (#MuckReads)

We’ve compiled some of the best journalism on the mental traumas faced by a generation of servicemen and women, and the military’s struggle to treat them.

Last Saturday, ex-sniper Chris Kyle and fellow veteran Chad Littlefield were shot and killed at a Texas gun range. The accused shooter is a former Marine, who sources say suffered from PTSD after serving in Iraq. 

The murder has reignited conversation on the mental trauma suffered by hundreds of thousands of U.S. service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last week, the Department Veterans Affairs reported (PDF) that an estimated 22 veterans committed suicide per day in 2010. Suicides hit a record-high of 349 in 2012, and more active-duty soldiers died by suicide than in combat last year.

The wars may be winding down, but the battle against PTSD is far from over. We’ve compiled some of the best journalism on the mental traumas faced by a generation of service men and women, and the U.S. military’s struggle to treat them. 

Is PTSD Contagious?, Mother Jones, January 2013
When veterans return bearing the scars of war, what happens to the families supporting them? Mac McClelland digs deep into studies that suggest spouses, children and other family can show the same symptoms of PTSD.

Suicides Highlight Failures of Veterans’ Support System, The Bay Citizen/New York Times, March 2012
In the Bay Area, poor communication at the Department of Veterans Affairs has led to many desperate veterans falling through the cracks. Even with an elite PTSD center stationed in Palo Alto, some suicidal vets were turned away or prematurely discharged. Reporter Aaron Glantz has done extensive coverage on the VA as it struggles to serve the influx of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Aftershock: The Blast That Shook Psycho Platoon, ProPublica and NPR, March 2012
As part of our Brain Wars series, we investigated a bomb blast that left five platoon members battling both traumatic brain injuries and PTSD. Their story illustrates a growing number of veterans facing psychological and cognitive difficulties: studies show an estimated 20 to 25 percent of military members that have served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer some sort of TBI, PTSD, or a combination of those two injuries.

Welcome Home: The Story of Scott Ostrom (photo essay), Denver Post, December 2011
Photographer Craig Walker followed former Marine Scott Ostrom’s struggle to return to civilian life after two tours in Iraq. “Where do I find my peace after experiencing something like that?” Ostrom asks. “Is my peace just the absence of war?”

Brain Injuries Remain Undiagnosed in Thousands of Soldiers, ProPublica and NPR, June 2010
In 2010, we launched a joint investigation with NPR into the invisible war wounds left untreated in thousands of service members. The army’s screening system routinely missed signs of concussion and other brain injuries, leaving tens of thousands of soldiers without needed care. Beyond physical and cognitive damages, TBI can also cause behavioral problems in affected soldiers. 

After Combat, Victims of an Inner War, New York Times, August 2009
Two soldiers were killed in this single unit of the National Guard, but four would eventually take their own life. Their story speaks of the larger spike in soldier suicides during the Iraq War. In 2009, 310 soldiers killed themselves, a record surpassed in 2012.

'I am under a lot of pressure to not diagnose PTSD,' Salon, April 2009
Reporters Michael de Yoanna and Mark Benjamin obtained a secret recording of a doctor saying he’d been discouraged from diagnosing PTSD, and told to treat veterans for anxiety disorder instead. (The Seattle Times covered a similar scandal at Madigan Health Services on the West Coast, which was under congressional investigation for its resistance to diagnosing PTSD.) As the cost of treating veterans’ trauma mounts, some say the military is looking for ways to keep the VA’s bill to a minimum. Benjamin and de Yoanna have covered PTSD and the military extensively, including a series of stories for Salon on the military mistreatment that contributed to multiple murders and suicides among soldiers. 

Walter Reed and Beyond, Washington Post, February 2007
Anne Hull and Dana Priest spotlighted systemic mistreatment and neglect at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and several other veterans health facilities across the country. Vets seeking psychological care faced dizzying bureaucracy and an under-resourced system buckling under high demand. Though Walter Reed was home to the army’s largest psychiatric department, there was no specific PTSD center, and patients rarely received individual attention.

What did we miss? Let us know what stories you would include in the comments section. 

Christie Thompson

Christie Thompson was an intern at ProPublica. She studied journalism at Northwestern University, and has written for The Nation, The Chicago Reporter and

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