My interview with Dr. Deane Aikins was, to say the least, enlightening.
A noted expert in his field, Dr. Aikins was once called by the Pentagon to testify via telephone before a Congressional subcomittee regarding homicidality in PTSD patients. If he was considered expert enough to be called before Congress, he’s certainly good enough for my purposes.
My interview came just scant days after the most recent shooting at Fort Hood, and there was no way we could have had a conversation about combat vets with post-traumatic stress disorder without the topic coming up.
Here I learned probably the most pertinent information. According to Dr. Aikins, neither suicidality nor homicidality are recognized symptoms of PTSD. PTSD can cause dissociative states, thought suppression, memory impairment and flashbacks, but not homicidal ideation. Its effects can lead to depression which in turn can lead to suicidal thoughts – as, presumably, can some of the side effects of prescribed medication – but PTSD in and of itself does not. According to Dr. Aikins, “There is no data that the flashback is so profound that it would cause a service member to discharge a service weapon in a dissociative state.” Also interesting is the base rate of violence in combat vets as compared to the base rate of violence in civilians. Right now, the number shows that the percentage of combat vets who resort to violence is actually lower than the percentage of civilians who resort to violence.
The interview could not have gone better. We stayed relatively true to the list of questions but – like James Holstein and Jaber Gubrium recommend in their essay “Active Interviewing” from the book Postmodern Interviewing – we didn’t adhere to them too strictly. Instead, the conversation flowed rather organically from beginning to end, and it was actually Dr. Aikins who kept bringing the conversation back to the aforementioned list.
I still have a few questions, but apparently so does the field as a whole. Though PTSD can be cured over time with a lot of work, there is no agreed-upon method for doing so. And perhaps the biggest problem facing treatment is that the patients cannot be compelled to undergo treatment of any kind unless he or she is considered an immediate danger to himself or others.
For now, conversations continue between professionals such as Dr. Aikins and his contemporaries. The search for answers continues. And if they don’t have all of their questions answered, how could I?