Authorities fear war experience could make standoffs more numerous, dangerous
March 28, 2009 - 12:00 PM
CARLYN RAY MITCHELL
Army Spc. Larry Applegate was firing rifles inside his Widefield home for nearly an hour before he turned a gun on himself, gasping his last breath into the phone, an El Paso County Sheriff's deputy on the other end.
Nearly certain Applegate, 27, had killed himself as he had threatened, the deputies surrounding his house that January day waited for any movement inside. There was only stillness.
It was a worst-case scenario in a standoff arising from a domestic violence report, made that much more volatile by Applegate's Army training and war experience.
Due to the rates of mental health problems experienced by Iraq war veterans, experts say it isn't the last time a soldier will barricade himself in a house, forcing a police response that in the mind of someone suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury could seem like a battle zone.
"We are training these people to be unconsciously competent at defending themselves," said Eleanor Alden, a clinical social worker in Denver who treats PTSD in private practice. "They just do it. And then they came back and we put them in a different situation, but the same triggers will have the same kind of response. Then they end up in some sort of fugue state where they are responding the way they are trained to respond but in the wrong situation."
For local law enforcement agencies, standoffs with the suicidal or people involved in domestic disputes are intense situations, often with multiple X factors. Adding in somewhat unpredictable behavior of someone suffering from mental and physical wounds of war can heighten the situation.
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