The story in this week’s Hartford Courant should scare the hell out of anyone. Soldiers in combat in Iraq are regularly given powerful anti-depressants to help them cope with the stress of war.
Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman report:

When Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark C. Warren was diagnosed with depression soon after his deployment to Iraq, a military doctor handed him a supply of the mood-altering drug Effexor.

Marine Pfc. Robert Allen Guy was given Zoloft to relieve the depression he developed in Iraq.

And Army Pfc. Melissa Hobart was dutifully taking the Celexa she was prescribed to ease the anxiety of being separated from her young daughter while in Baghdad.

All three were given antidepressants to help them make it through their tours of duty in Iraq – and all came home in coffins.

Warren, 44, and Guy, 26, committed suicide last year, according to the military; Hobart, 22, collapsed in June 2004, of a still-undetermined cause.

The three are among a growing number of mentally troubled service members who are being kept in combat and treated with potent psychotropic medications – a little-examined practice driven in part by a need to maintain troop strength.

In past wars, the military’s policy has been to pull soldiers with mental problems off the front lines. But the invasion of Iraq has stretched America’s military too thin and the Pentagon wants to keep everyone in combat as long as possible.

The Courant report continues:

• Antidepressant medications with potentially serious side effects are being dispensed with little or no monitoring and sometimes minimal counseling, despite FDA warnings that the drugs can increase suicidal thoughts.

• Military doctors treating combat stress symptoms are sending some soldiers back to the front lines after rest and a three-day regimen of drugs – even though experts say the drugs typically take two to six weeks to begin working.

• The emphasis on maintaining troop numbers has led some military doctors to misjudge the severity of mental health symptoms.

Some of the practices are at odds with the military’s own medical guidelines, which state that certain mental illnesses are incompatible with military service, and some medications are not suited for combat deployments. The practices also conflict with statements by top military health officials, who have indicated to Congress that psychiatric drugs are not being used to keep service members with serious disorders in combat.

Soldiers on anti-depressants kill themselves or they make mistakes that get others killed. Just another sad example of the madness called the war in Iraq.