Last night on Sixty Minutes Leslie Stahl interviewed two pilots who fly the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, who have chosen to stop flying the F-22 because they say during some flights they and other pilots have experienced oxygen deprivation, disorientation, and worse. The F-22 is the most expensive fighter jet the Air Force has, and it has been plagued with problems. It was grounded a year ago while the problems with the oxygen delivery system were being investigated, but was put back in the air with no specific problem identified and fixed. Pilots are are concerned about their safety in the air, as well as the long-term health consequences. The Air Force has no plans to ground the planes again as further investigations are carried out.
My question is why not? Why is the Air Force Command risking pilots’ lives like this? It is bad enough that the pilots face death every time they fly in combat, so why should they be put in this kind of high risk in training? And what about the danger of one of these planes crashing into a heavily populated area when a pilot gets disorientated in flight?
In another example of what I consider thoughtless decisions by those in command of the military is what I read in this column by Thomas Friedman that I read recently in the Dallas Morning News. He reported that post traumatic stress disorder among U.S. troops has jumped from 0.2 percent in 2002 to 22 percent in 2008. According to information that Friedman obtained from the military, the cases of PTSD are not just caused from the perilous combat environment that soldiers face in these prolonged wars, but could be exasperated by drugs that soldiers are given.
The military routinely gives troops Ritalin and Adderall, common stimulants prescribed for people with ADHD. According to Friedman’s report, the number of prescriptions written for those two drugs for active -duty service members increased by nearly 1,000 percent in five years from 3,000 to 32,000.
The connection between these drugs and PTSD is made based on the fact that the drugs enhance learning, and PTSD is a form of learning known as fear conditioning. When a soldier is taking the drugs and experiences a traumatic combat situation, the memory of that is strengthened by the drugs and can lead to severe consequences. The suicide rate in the military is rising at a staggering rate, as well as incidents of military personnel losing control and committing atrocious acts of violence.
What amazes me is that military doctors continue to prescribe the drugs despite these startling research results. It’s bad enough that we are asking our young people to go off to these countries to fight wars we probably should not even be involved in, now we are adding to their long-term problems.