VA Prepares for Reaction to “Wartorn”

William Fraas Jr., featured in the film, "Wartorn," can't stop reviewing computer photos from his three tours in Iraq.

The HBO documentary, “Wartorn: 1861-2010,” has been screened at the Pentagon and the Carter Center for Mental Health and resulted in some calls for a caution or warning label because its powerful images could stress some veterans. 

The film is so powerful that the VA has sent out alerts preparing its medical centers for a surge of veterans seeking help after it debuts.

The opening montage of images includes the detonation of an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) along an Iraq road and the aftermath of charred vehicles and twisted, limp bodies. The voice of an unidentified soldier calls repeatedly, “We need a litter over here.”

“It started immediately with some pretty intense combat scenes,” said Dr. Carrie-Ann Gibson, a psychiatrist and director of suicide prevention, PTSD treatment and substance abuse programs for Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital. She screened the film keeping in mind the veterans she treats.

“(There are) some pretty difficult photos that would be hard for people to process if they didn’t have a warning of what to expect because if we see “Wartorn 1861 to 2010” you would expect a history of PTSD treatment available,” Gibson told WUSF.

The film traces combat PTSD symptoms back to the Civil War.

Veterans will react differently to the film according to their experience she added. The documentary may encourage some veterans to seek help, others could view it and be completely overwhelmed and stressed by the film and still others may be in recovery from PTSD and appreciate the film’s attempt to document the history of PTSD. 

Gibson says the film is missing some things. There are no scenes showing veterans being treated for PTSD and no representation of Korean War or Gulf War veterans.

Resources for Veterans:

-         PTSD Information  Line 802-296-6300

-         Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK(8255)

-         National Center for PTSD http://ptsd.va.gov

-         Veterans Benefits Information: http://www.va.gov

-         Health Benefits Eligibility: http://www.va.gov/elig/

-         Tampa Vet Center: 813-228-2621

-         St. Pete Vet Center: 727-549-3633

Several WWII veterans tell "Wartorn" producers it took decades before they got help for PTSD known as "battle fatigue" to them.

“Wartorn” produer Ellen Goosenberg Kent said it was important to keep the film tightly focused on the consequences of not recognizing or seeking treatment for PTSD.

“Our hope is that the film would help de-stigmatize,” Goosenberg Kent said. “It’s true you don’t see people getting help or asking for help and that’s part of the problem that these people didn’t ask or get it and weren’t screened to see if they had the issues.”

One Vietnam veteran who attended the film’s screening at the Pentagon called for a warning label to be put on the film. Goosenberg Kent said that HBO plans to air a caution prior to tonight’s debut at 9.

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