Stressors, Stress and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

A small group of experienced and qualified individuals met a few months ago in Victoria to discuss two vexing and intriguing questions. First, “Why are some of our best-trained soldiers seriously affected by combat related post-traumatic stress disorder while others, hopefully the majority, are not?” Second, “Are there practical measures that can be taken to minimize the risk that personnel in combat will develop PTSD?”

Over the course of a number of meetings and with a good deal of literature research, the group concluded that there might be merit in conducting a significant research project exploring the influence that the cohesiveness of the deployed unit, its leadership (at all levels) and its training regime have on the incidence of that particular strain of PTSD which is caused by exposure to combat situations.

To that end, the working group has prepared a “thought paper” entitled Increasing Combat Capability by Reducing the Effects of Combt Stressors  which might be used by the Defence Staff to initiate a research project. The paper has been submitted to the Chief of the Defence Staff, General R. Hillier as a sincere effort on their part to be helpful and eager to meet with his specialist officers to pursue the proposal.

The Working Group is headed by Col (Ret) John C. Eggenberger, PhD, President of our RUSI VI and a former director Personnel Applied Research; VAdm (Ret) Nigel Brodeur, a RUSI VI member and former Deputy Chief Defence Staff; Dr. Timothy Black, Professor of Psychology, University of Victoria; LGen (Ret) Kent Foster, former Commander FMC, a RUSI VI member; Col (Ret) Peter Green, a RUSI member and former Army medical officer; Dr James Main, MD(in practice) contracted to DVA/DND for PTSD; Dr George Nichol, PhD(in practice) contracted to DVA/DND for PTSD; MGen (Ret) David Wightman, former Commander CF Europe, a RUSI VI member.

An institutional endorsement has been made by our Royal United Services Institute of Vancouver Island.

The “Thought Paper” was submitted to the Chief of Defence Staff on February 20, 2007. It is focused upon whether or not combat capability can be increased by reducing the impact that combat stressors have upon soldiers. Should this thought paper elicit interest, it could lead to a series of Personnel Applied Research projects. [The CDS responded on 27 March 2007.]

The sections in the paper describe the following subject areas for further research:

  • Combat Capability;
  • Stressors, Stress and PTSD;
  • Ethos, Cohesion and Combat Capability;
  • Impact of Casualties upon Cohesion;
  • Stressors and Stress;
  • Measuring Research Variables;
  • Leadership;
  • Research Teams;
  • Research Sequence, Selection of Independent and Dependent Variables;
  • Research Questions;
  • Development of the Working Paper.

“A soldier should not meet in battle, for the first time, things which set him at unease or afraid.”

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