Venice film recounts trauma of war-scarred U.S. troops

Tue Sep 7, 2010 9:06am EDT
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By Silvia Aloisi

VENICE (Reuters) - A documentary premiering at the Venice film festival explores the trauma of U.S. soldiers returning from war in Iraq and struggling to readjust to normal life, with little if any help from the military.

"Ward 54," by Italian journalist Monica Maggioni, is named after the psychiatric wing of Walter Reed Hospital that treats army veterans in Washington DC.

Through the vivid recount of soldier Kristofer Goldsmith's experience, and that of the family of a marine who killed himself upon his return from Iraq, it sheds light on an increasingly alarming phenomenon that is still a taboo subject.

Since 2001, the number of suicides among the U.S. military has risen exponentially, and in 2009 it surpassed the number of war casualties, according to specialist weekly Army Times. An average of 18 veterans commit suicide every day.

"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is something that, at least while I was in, no one ever wanted to admit that they had," Goldsmith, who burst into tears as the documentary was warmly applauded in Venice, told Reuters in an interview.

"The military is a culture of toughness ... To be viewed as broken in any way, whether it be physically or mentally, is something that seems dishonorable."

Sent to Iraq in 2005 when he as 20, Goldsmith's task was to photograph and classify Iraqi corpses.

After being ordered to take close-up pictures of bodies in a Baghdad mass grave, something snapped inside him and he began having nightmares and flashbacks.   Continued...