The School of Social Work’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families (CIR) has welcomed visiting scholar Eyal Fruchter for the next year. Fruchter, former head of the mental health department of the Israeli Defense Force, will teach about and research post-traumatic stress disorder and related topics.
The CIR is a new, innovative research center at USC.
“It is a center that is housed in the USC School of Social Work that aims to help the transition of veterans and families into the community,” said Claudia Bustamante, a spokeswoman for CIR. “We do that through innovative research, educational training, community global engagement … [and] building partnerships with other leaders in the area.”
The CIR, which was founded in 2009 and has grown “tremendously” in its five years according to Bustamante, does research on a multitude of contemporary military issues, including how service affects sexual functioning and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Fruchter, who has had significant exposure to the world of military health, explained how his experience relates to the interests of CIR.
“I am a psychiatrist by profession, and I worked in the Israeli Defense Force first as a military doctor and then as a psychiatrist, and until two months ago I was the head of the mental health division of the IDF,” Fruchter said. “We did a lot of work on post-traumatic stress disorder and its ramifications … So, for the last several years I’ve been working on PTSD, both its prevention and treatment.”
Fruchter said that factors as simple as the length of a soldier’s tour can drastically increase his or her chances for suffering from the illness.
“We have much fewer cases of PTSD in the IDF [than in the US] … due to several factors, but the main one is probably the length of the mission,” Fruchter said.
Mandatory military service as required by the Israeli government also plays a role in reducing PTSD, noted Fruchter.
“I didn’t have to change anything in the way that I coped, and everybody knew what I was talking about,” said Fruchter about his ability to express himself healthily to his friends and family.
Fruchter said that this is different than the American military, where soldiers often know little about the areas where they are stationed, or know of other people who have gone through the same struggles in the service.
“American soldiers come from homes where some of them [don’t] know what’s going on [in] the theater and they’re gone for a year … you learn to cope alone, and when you come back home nobody knows what you’ve been through,” Fruchter said. “It’s very hard for people from the outside to understand what you’ve been through.”
Fruchter believes that this tension between the expectations and realities for soldiers returning from duty is one of the main causes of PTSD.
“Your friends expect you to be the friend that they had … [but] people have a very hard time adjusting to being sent away and then again to come back … that I believe is the core problem causing war post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said.
But Fruchter thinks that the work he and the center are doing can help.
“I believe that if we manage to bring in the research that I want to do this year with connection to the IDF [that] we will find several ways that will be most helpful in presenting PTSD and treating it … We’ve progressed quite a bit in several aspects but now we need to see clinically working.”