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American Sniper: A Study In PTSD

The movie "American Sniper," based on the best-selling book by the same title, is breaking box-office records and is nominated for several academy awards, including best picture. The stunning success of the movie is playing out against the backdrop of the trial of the accused killer of the American Sniper, Chris Kyle. The defendant, Eddie Ray Routh, was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, when Kyle and his friend took Routh to a firing range to try to help him. Kyle was working with vets with PTSD before his death. Routh is now raising PTSD in his defense to the murder charges.

Both the movie and the trial are raising awareness about PTSD. Also depicted in the movie are veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries, or TBI. PTSD and TBI often co-exist because brain injuries are often sustained in traumatic experiences; after all, both PTSD and TBI have the word "trauma" in their description. Because of this frequent overlap between the two conditions, people often confuse them. In this two-part series about PTSD and TBI, we will discuss the difference between the two conditions, the causes and symptoms of both, and what to do if you are affected by either or both conditions.


As the title suggests, a traumatic brain injury is an injury to the brain sustained in a traumatic event. The TBI refers to the injury itself, and not to the symptoms associated with that injury. A traumatic brain injury is really a concussion, the severity of which is determined by the symptoms which are referred to as post-concussion syndrome.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an emotional or psychological disorder brought on by a traumatic event. The traumatic event can often include a TBI, which is what leads to the overlap in TBI and PTSD. But PTSD is not the injury itself, and does not occur with the traumatic event; PTSD develops from the trauma.


As the movie American Sniper highlights, as well as the trial of Chris Kyle's accused killer tragically shows, combat is one cause of PTSD. In fact, it is the most common cause for men in the United States. But there are other causes of PTSD that may not be as well understood. Any intentional, human-inflicted harm such as rape, assault, or abuse can be so traumatic as to cause PTSD. Accidents, fires and floods, which can create situations that are unexpected and uncontrollable, can lead to severe trauma and PTSD. Risk factors such as a lack of support after suffering the trauma, previous traumatic experiences, or a history of substance abuse can increase a person's likelihood of developing PTSD.


The common causes of traumatic brain injury are: (1) falls; (2) motor vehicle crashes; (3) sports injuries; and (4) assaults. TBI is the leading cause of death and disability in children and adults from ages 1-44. Each year, 52,000 deaths occur from traumatic brain injury.

As the above demonstrates, some of the causes for PTSD and TBI are the same, most notably accidents/crashes and assaults. The overlap makes sense since trauma is part of both conditions--causing the injury in TBI and leading to the disorder in PTSD.

We will continue with a discussion of the symptoms and treatments for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder in Part II of this series. Contact the personal injury lawyers at the Thomas Law Firm if you have experienced a traumatic event and want to find out about your legal rights.

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