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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Friday, March 23, 2012

Israel Helps U.S. with Post Traumatic Stress of Soldiers

Jack Kemp

Many readers here are familiar with the articles I wrote on the Veterans Dog Training and Disability Act both last November and this March. In doing further research for on the effect of healing dogs on combat veterans who are recovering from serious physical injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the work lead to methods developed by the Israel Defense Forces that are being studied for use in America.

The Al Monitor website recently detailed an article translated from the Israeli newspaper Yedidot Achronot and written by Moshe Ronen. I will be paraphrasing the article and adding two personal observations, one in America and one in Israel. This is really mostly a paraphrasing and quoting of someone else’s findings, but it is done here to pass along what I believe is some important information. Let’s start with two quotes from the Al Monitor article.


In the past few years, the United States has had to grapple with millions returning or about to return from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is Israel's experience and success in this field that has attracted the attention of a large number of American academics. A forty-strong delegation of professors and senior lecturers headed by Prof. Marilyn Flynn, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, has come to Israel seeking to learn from the IDF how to better treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


It did not take long for researchers in Israel, Britain and Canada to realize that the number of soldiers with PTSD in their own countries is relatively low. Says Flynn, "In these three armies, only one-fifth to 10% of combat soldiers suffer from shell shock, compared to 20-25% among American troops. We also discovered that Israel is better able to cope with this phenomenon, so we’ve come to learn from the IDF how to do this."


Prof. Flynn states the major differences between the Israeli and American situations: 1) Sixty percent of the entire Israeli population serves in the military (exclusions for most orthodox men and all orthodox women), making service much more understood and appreciated there, while in America, only one percent of the population serves in the armed forces, 2) The mission – the justification as to why they are there - is much clearer to the Israeli soldier than the American and 3) Israeli soldiers get to visit their families once every two weeks. Prof. Flynn further points that in both World War II and Vietnam, troops fought on a clearly defined front and got to go behind front lines every few weeks for rest and recuperation. In Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no clear lines and the enemy operates behind the front, out of uniform, placing roadside bombs. This author will add that at the Soldiers’ Ride event in New York City in 2010, I spoke with a young U.S. Army soldier, now stationed stateside, who was missing part of his right thumb from a bomb that went off in a dining hall in Iraq, killing and wounding several soldiers.

In Israel, the IDF has a three level program to lower Post Traumatic Stress. They have designed several programs to prepare different units before combat and these are taught to the officer corps. Colonel Dr. Eyal Fruchter, the

Chief IDF Psychologist whose first name means “Strength,” states:

“To prevent emotional trauma, a paramedic or an airborne technician, for example, will be exposed to gruesome photos of wounded people and bodily injuries to prepare them for what they will have to encounter. In contrast, infantrymen will undergo a different kind of preparation, without exposing them to pictures of wounded people.

The overall objective is to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder well before battle.”


The officers are trained in how to immediately talk to and deal with soldiers with PTSD after a battle. Dr. Fruchter, once again, says:

“It's very much like debriefing. Talking about the experience is needed in order to reduce the risk of someone developing PTSD. This allows the soldiers to vent anger, frustration, grief and other emotions. If the commander feels that some soldiers are particularly vulnerable, ‎he will refer them to the military psychologist already at this point.

The third level is treating those who are already hurt. An enlisted or career soldier will be treated by the military, while a reservist will be treated by the Defense Ministry's rehabilitation unit.”


Israel had a military situation significantly similar to the American one during the period after the Six Day War called The War of Attrition from 1967 to 1973. People sent to the west bank of the Suez Canal didn’t know clearly why they were there passively being shelled every day over many months by the Egyptians. When they came back to Tel Aviv and most other young people were partying, it was very disorienting. This author was in Israel at that time and spoke with a young Israeli who told me that he was at the Suez Canal, telephoning home from a pay phone (this was before Israel invented the cell phone). His mother asked him about his childhood friend who was serving with him when an incoming artillery shell killed his friend on the spot. The young soldier then argued and got an IDF doctor to send him back home two weeks early because of this.

If there’s anyone who can adapt these methods from Israel to the U.S. military, it is Professor and Dean of the USC School of Social Work, Dr. Marilyn Flynn’s efforts has gotten the School to receive “three Congressionally directed appropriations to establish the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military families, focusing on the mental health needs of service members and their families.” Her efforts also include the cutting edge application of virtual reality methods for clinical treatment and educational use. Here’s wishing her Godspeed.

P.S. You can read more about U.S. developed treatment of PTSD with virtual reality in this article:

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