Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Drone Pilots suffer PTSD?

How can Drone Pilots suffer PTSD?

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In an article LiveScience, which is a TechMediaNetwork company, the writer proposes that although drone operators may be far from the battlefield -- that they too can still develop symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

This follows a new study which supposedly shows that drone pilots stationed in the United States and far away from combat zones supposedly also experience PTSD.

About 1,000 United States Air Force drone operators took part in the study, and researchers found that 4.3 percent of them experienced moderate to severe PTSD.

In comparison, from my research, 20 and 25 percent of those troops returning from deployment overseas typically are diagnosed with PTSD -- either combat related or from trauma experienced while there in one way or another.

Their research said the percentage was lower at 10 to 18 percent.

"I would say that, even though the percentage is small, it is still a very important number, and something that we would want to take seriously so that we make sure that the folks that are performing their job are effectively screened for this condition and get the help that they [may] need," said study author Wayne Chappelle, a clinical psychologist who consults for the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

The percentage of drone operators in the study who had PTSD was lower than the percentage of people in the U.S. general population who have the condition, which is 8.7 percent, according to the 2013 data from the American Psychiatric Association cited in the study.

The drone operators in the study completed questionnaires that listed 17 symptoms characteristic of PTSD, such as recurring nightmares, intrusive thoughts, trouble falling asleep and difficulty concentrating.

The researchers also found that "there are really no substantive differences" between symptoms of PTSD in drone operators and other military personnel, Chappelle told Live Science.

The drone operators who had worked for 25 months or more, and those working 51 or more hours weekly were more likely to experience PTSD symptoms than operators who had worked for less time, or fewer hours per week.

Whether someone develops PTSD after a traumatic event depends on how they can process it, Chappelle said. It is not completely clear why some people seem to process events better than others.

"It is likely that multiple factors are at play," such as genetics or past exposure to trauma, in determining whether a person will experience PTSD, Chappelle said.

Although drone operators are not on the actual battlefield, they operate aircraft "that still affect battlefield operations, and many other operations, [and therefore] it is important that we maintain airmen who are healthy, who are fit and that we are able to identify those airmen that may be struggling with some kind of psychological or physical condition that could in fact impair their performance or reduce longevity," Chappelle said.

Drone operators suffering from PTSD could benefit from interventions, he said. If PTSD goes unaddressed, the condition can lead to more severe problems, he said.

So there's the findings from the study's author Wayne Chappelle, a clinical psychologist who consults for the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

I stress Dayton, Ohio, because of a few points.

First, unlike combat troops in the field living day in and day out with the trauma of combat and the stresses involved in an actual deployment, the Air Force personnel studied did not live the life of a soldier or airman or Marine or sailor actually deployed overseas.

Instead, those Drone Operators went to the base as if it were a job in the civilian world where they did their shift and went home.

Yes, unlike our troops overseas who only dreamt of home and wondered and worried if all would be there when they got back, the Airmen in that study left after their shift and went home to support and comfort to regroup and find solace in doing a days work.

Since some of the factors that can increase the likelihood of a traumatic event leading to PTSD, are:

•The intensity of the trauma

•Being hurt or losing a loved one

•Being physically close to the traumatic event

•Feeling you were not in control

•Having a lack of support after the event

How do those sitting at a video console compare their "trauma" to troops in combat or a soldier who has been through a traumatic event overseas?

Where is the intensity, losing a loved one or watching someone die, or feeling not in control or not having a lack of support?

Second, since those Airman are located in the states and not in harm's way -- that element of PTSD where a person experiencing PTSD feels he or she has a shortened lifespan is null and void.

That is unless of course they want to compare their drive to the base in Dayton, Ohio, with those troops deployed who know that an IED might be lying in wait around the next corner, that a bullet might have your name on it, or that the next mission might be your last.
Third, if a Drone Operator sits at a console to steer a drone to its target thousand's of miles from where he sits, why would he or she experience any of symptoms of PTSD such as:
•Having nightmares, vivid memories, flashbacks of the event;

•Feeling as if it’s happening all over again;

•Feeling emotionally cut off from others;

•Feeling numb;

•Losing interest in things you used to care about;

•Being depressed;

•Feeling as if you are always in danger;

•Feeling anxious, jittery, or irritated;

•Experiencing a sense of panic that something bad is about to happen;

•A fear of the experience reoccurring;

•Having difficulty sleeping;

•Having trouble keeping your mind on one thing;

•Having a hard time relating to and getting along with your spouse, family, or friends.

If all you do is sit at a console, and essentially do what has been described as playing video games, why would you allow what you do at a console disrupt your life by:

•Consistent drinking or use of drugs to numb your feelings;

•Consider harming yourself or others;

•Start working all the time to occupy your mind;

•Pull away from other people and become isolated;

•Frequently avoid places or things that remind you of what happened.

Not taking anything away from the mission, Drone Operators do not face a life and death situation that those with PTSD have encountered, or have been put in a place where they feel threatened.

At least I hope not while they are on a base in Dayton, Ohio, and elsewhere in the states where they are safe from danger.

It is important to note that the Air Force has tried to authorize Combat Medals and Awards to those who are stationed in the states and are never deployed overseas.

They have tried to do this even though those men and women are sitting safe far away from harm's way.

Their efforts were shot down because it diminishes the awards given to those who are actually in combat, who are actually risking their lives, who are actually in danger.

It was a shameful effort to harvest medals and awards when they did not deserve them!

This notion of having PTSD from sitting at a video console is ludicrous!

I'm sorry, but I just can't accept the argument that a person in a non-life threatening situation should receive the same medals and awards as those deployed, or experience PTSD which is supposed to be a trauma that effected one in horrible ways.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa

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