Violence, Traumatic Brain Injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the Soldier

It is impossible to turn on a television, log on to the internet, or read a newspaper over the past couple of weeks without learning about the shooting of civilians in Afghanistan. Sgt. Robert Bales is accused of shooting and killing as many as 16 civilians. After several tours of duty in Iraq, he began his tour of duty in Afghanistan. Much is not known about what happened, or why. However, one thing that is being learned is that Sgt. Bales may have been suffering from a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

For the those of us who study the human brain and the effects of traumatic brain injury, we know that the science and the literature still has a long way to go. However, we also know that recent studies over and over again are showing a relationship among brain injury, PTSD, and violence.

Different parts of the brain are known to control our behaviors in different ways: our ability to follow direction, societal norms, think clearly and logically, to behave rationally, and to control our rage and anger. Studies have shown that injury to the Amygdala in the brain can cause intense rage. Additionally, studies have shown that when the brain is exposed to a stressor, in conjunction with physical trauma to the brain, there is an increased likelihood of developing PTSD. Anyone who regularly interacts with, or treats, brain injured people know that violence, heightened sexuality, and irrational behavior often go hand in hand with brain injury or PTSD.

At this point, nobody has any real explanation for why the tragedy involving Sgt. Bales and the Afghan civilians unfolded. As an injury lawyer who specializes in representing people with brain injuries, though, it seems that nobody should close the book on Sgt. Bales until much more is known about the role that the reported brain injury and PTSD may have played. Nor should we forget the victims of this awful tragedy.