Psyche 'armor' is a must for soldiers

“The Psychological Kevlar Act of 2007. Clever, right? Made-up? No. It is the Pentagon’s plan for protecting combat soldiers from the psychological trauma of warfare. It entails giving the troops propanolol, a heart medication with an unusual side effect: It minimizes traumatic memories.”

The Psychological Kevlar Act of 2007.

Clever, right?

Made-up? No.

It is the Pentagon’s plan for protecting combat soldiers from the psychological trauma of warfare. It entails giving the troops propanolol, a heart medication with an unusual side effect: It minimizes traumatic memories.

Sen. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), introduced the bill last summer. It hasn’t moved very far since then, but it’s out there. It calls for the Secretary of Defense to develop a program aimed at reducing post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress-related psychopathologies.

Propranolol is used to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions and circulatory problems.

But, researchers have discovered that it lessens the intensity of unpleasant memories. Here’s how it works: Adrenaline is triggered during traumatic or intense experiences, which is why they remain so intense in our memories. Studies indicate that adrenaline administered after an experience – any experience – boosts one’s memory of that experience. Propranolol blocks that.

Everyone knows that post-traumatic stress disorder affects a huge number of combat soldiers. In fact, CBS reported that in 2005, 6,000 veterans of all wars committed suicide. That’s a rate of 120 … per week.

This is more than a problem. It’s an epidemic that is careening through our military ranks.

Maybe propranolol is the solution. If it will save lives and improve the quality of them, perhaps the Psychological Kevlar Act is actually a good idea.

Some suggest that lessening the horror of combat in soldiers’ minds will actually create an army of unfeeling, calculating killing machines who lack morals. That’s not the purpose of propranolol.

Propranolol wouldn’t be necessary if soldiers weren’t fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, of course. But, realistically, we’re not going to withdraw because we’re concerned about the mental states of combat soldiers.

Let’s not make them suffer – and die – simply because we’re holding out for an all-or-nothing resolution. There will, of course, be one school of thought that will quote If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, suggesting that if we compromise on anything pertaining to the war, then it’s full-out concession.

That argument won’t help anyone. And it certainly is not one with anyone’s best interests at heart.

Will we head down a dangerous path by chemically altering our memories? Only time will tell. In the meantime, at least we’ll know we’ve saved lives and spared soldiers some suffering.