Sergeant Robert Bales: Traumatic Brain Injury and Update

Nancy Harris Bonk Health Guide
  • Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the soldier accused of the violent massacre in Afghanistan last month, had previously sustained a traumatic brain injury or TBI. He is a married father with young children and is being charged with killing 17 people in two small Afghan villages. These charges include 17 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder and assault in the horrific rampage. Bales is being held in solitary confinement at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., while the shooting is under investigation.


    During the majority of his military career, Sergeant Bales was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington when he wasn't overseas. Bales was on his fourth deployment in Kandahar since joining the Army in 2001. Ft. Lewis, his home base, is known as one of the most troublesome bases in the military. In fact, four soldiers from the base were convicted in 2010 with the intentional killings of three Afghans.  

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    Recently, Bales was having a few issues of his own; he had been passed over for a promotion he was excited about and was under a great deal of financial strain. He had lost a part of his foot due to unhealthy conditions at a base in Iraq and complained of headaches to his wife, Karilyn. John Browne, the civilian lawyer who is representing him, said Bales also has problems with nightmares, waking up with night sweats and disturbing memories ever since he and his unit witnessed a gruesome attack in Iraq a few years ago. In 2010 while still in Iraq, Bales was also involved in a roadside bombing when the vehicle he was in flipped over. He reportedly suffered a TBI.


    There's no question the massacre in Afghanistan is a tragedy. Certainly, there is no reasoning, no possible excuse for this unprovoked, senseless killing. I wonder if Bales received an adequate evaluation before his last deployment. Does TBI and the mental health of soldiers have any role in such events and repeat deployments? Does the military provide proper and sufficient treatment after each deployment to our soldiers?


    While I don't know the answers to these questions, and not suggesting they are excuses for abhorrent behavior, I can't help but wonder what role the military may have played in this event. Life as a civilian TBI survivor can be very overwhelming, but for a soldier with a TBI, possible post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), financial and possible marital troubles, it could become untenable. The men and women who serve our country deserve to be well enough, mentally and physically, before they are redeployed.   


    Related information:




    Associated Press. "Suspect in Afghanistan shooting from U.S. base with troubled past." USAToday. March 12, 2012.


    Leonning, Carol. "Staff Sgt. Robert Bales describes PSTD-like symptoms, lawyer says." The Washington Post. March 28, 2012.

  staff writers and news services. "Staff Sgt. Robert Bales charged with 17 counts of murder in Afghanistan massacre." U.S. News. March 23, 2012.


    Yardley, William."U.S. Sergeant Faces 17 Counts of Murder in Afghan Killings." The New York Times. March 22, 2012.


  • Thanks for reading and feel well,

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    © HealthCentral Network, 2012.  
    Last updated April 11, 2012.

Published On: April 11, 2012