Driven Crazy: TBI is Claiming the Hearts and Minds of Too Many Vets

By Diane Cole

January/February 2013

This past July, the U.S. army suicide rate reached a grim new high: more than one per day. Shortly before that statistic was released, the Pentagon announced that suicide had become the leading cause of military deaths outside of combat; whereas in 2005, suicide accounted for 10 percent of army deaths, by 2011, the figure had risen to 20 percent. As for why returning soldiers would attempt suicide after leaving foreign conflicts behind, the answer found by researchers at the National Center for Veterans Studies probably won’t come as a surprise to psychotherapists who’ve treated veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or from the not yet well understood impact of blast-induced traumatic brain injury (TBI): they kill themselves to put an end to their intense psychological suffering and pain.

What it means to live with that vast interior landscape of pain is the subject of military veteran Brian Castner’s incisive memoir The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows. Page by page, Castner chronicles the inside story—the story inside his head. “The first thing you should know about me is that I’m Crazy,” he begins. “My Crazy is a feeling. It’s the worst, most intolerable feeling I’ve ever had. And it never goes away.” He carries this feeling with him all the time, along with the feel of a rifle strapped to his back, the growl of Humvee engines amid the riot of people screaming in a language he doesn’t understand, and the stink…

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