Many Czech servicemen suffering from "war syndrome"


Since the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999 seven thousand of its elite troops have served in international missions in the Persian Gulf, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of these elite soldiers have served abroad repeatedly and many are said to have come back with post-traumatic disorders- suffering from what is known as "war syndrome".

Insomnia, headaches, indigestion, night sweats, dizziness and hair loss. Those are just some of the symptoms attributed to war syndrome. The Defense Ministry has no statistics which would indicate how many Czech soldiers come home with these problems and the soldiers themselves have little interest in publicizing the matter for fear that they might jeopardize their chances of being assigned to other foreign missions in the future. However, a conference of military specialists in Hruba Voda near Olomouc over the weekend brought the war-syndrome problem among Czech troops out into the open. Jiri Klose, a leading military psychologist, said the matter should be given proper attention:

"War syndrome is connected with post-traumatic stress - which usually comes when it is all over. When the boys are home safe they start digesting everything they experienced. Many try to deal with the trauma on their own and those who eventually do seek help go to private practitioners. But I think things are now starting to change for the better, because it is in our interest to help these boys and to enable them to return to active service."

Out of 7,000 elite soldiers, close to 2,000 have served on two or more foreign missions. Some of them have been sent out as many as eight times. The Czech Defense Ministry says that although it does not have information about any health complaints it is well known that many of these soldiers' personal lives fall apart because of their lengthy absence from home. Defense Ministry spokesman Andrej Cirtek says it would like to increase the number of elite troops with training for international missions.

"This would reduce the pressure on these elite troops and lower the burden on each individual. It would then be possible to arrange it so that a soldier would get sent out for say a period of six months once in every three year-period."

This is a long-term goal and unlikely to help those who are currently experiencing difficulties. However observers say that the first and most important step to helping soldiers suffering from war-syndrome has now been made - the problem has been brought out into the open.