FORT WORTH, Tex. — The dinner crowd was sparse for a downtown steakhouse, a handful of families and couples lost in conversations. Ryan Lundeby, 32, an Army Ranger with five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, took in the scene from his table, seemingly meditative beneath his shaved head and long beard.
He was not.
“He watches, he’s always watching; he notices everything,” said his wife, Mary. “Superman noticing skills, that’s what I call it. Look, he’s doing it now — Ryan?”
“That table over there,” Mr. Lundeby said, his voice soft, his eyes holding a line. “The guy threw his straw wrapper on the ground. I’m waiting to see if he picks it up.”
He did not. Mr. Lundeby’s breathing slowed.
After 14 years of war, the number of veterans with multiple tours of combat duty is the largest in modern American history — more than 90,000 soldiers and Marines, many of them elite fighters who deployed four or more times. New evidence suggests that these veterans are not like most others when it comes to adjusting to civilian life.
An analysis of Army data shows that, unlike most of the military, these soldiers’ risk of committing suicide actually drops when they are deployed and soars after they return home. For the 85 percent of soldiers who make up the rest of the service and were deployed, the reverse is true.
“It’s exactly the opposite of what you see in the trauma literature, where more exposure predicts more problems,” said Ronald Kessler of Harvard, who led the study.
The findings may shed a clearer light on the need of this important group of veterans, whose experience is largely unparalleled in American history, in their numerous exposures to insurgent warfare, without clear fronts or predictable local populations. Researchers are finding that these elite fighters do not easily fit into the classic mold of veterans traumatized by their experience in war. As psychologists and others grow to understand this, they are starting to rethink some approaches to their treatment.
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