Under the Radar

PBS Explores PTSD's 'War on the Brain'


This week, PBS NewHour is airing "War on the Brain," a three-part report by Soledad O’Brien about PTSD and new research that gives doctors better insight into the biology of the condition. You can watch the report during the show March 29-31 (Wednesday-Friday). As will all PBS programs, check your local listings for exact air times. If you miss the program on live TV, NewsHour streams episodes on their website, has a YouTube channel and is available in the PBS app on all the various phone/tablet/TV platforms. You can also find abbreviated versions of the reports on WebMD after they air.

The big news is that current research supports the fact that PTSD is a result of measurable physical injury and new neurological tests are being developed to assist in a proper diagnosis. Confirming the physical component of PTSD should help erase the stigma of a purely psychological diagnosis and encourage more veterans to seek treatment.

“During our investigation, we found that there is no concrete way to diagnose PTSD – no x-ray or blood test,” said O’Brien. “Currently, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs psychologists do a subjective evaluation but new scientific findings may change that.”

Dr. Daniel Perl, a neuropathologist at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, did a study which compared the brain tissue of civilians who suffered from head injuries to the brains of soldiers exposed to blasts. His study showed that blast victims had a unique scarring on their brains. That suggests PTSD is at least partly the result of a physical injury.

 “I've been looking at brain slides for over 40 years and I had never seen this pattern before,” said Perl. “We thought this must be something very unique and special to blast exposure.”


In this clip from the PBS NewsHour report “War on the Brain,” neuropathologist Dr. Daniel Perl describes the causes of PTSD and veteran Jacob Fadley describes the experience of a concussive blast.


In this clip from the PBS NewsHour report “War on the Brain,” Colonel Greg Gadson (Ret.), U.S. Army, describes his experience with Post-Traumatic Stress and why he doesn’t want to call it a disorder.


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