About the author
Bret A. Moore is a clinical psychologist who served in Iraq and is the author of "Wheels Down: Adjusting to Life after Deployment." Click here to send him an email. Names and identifying details will be kept confidential. This column is for informational purposes only. Readers should see a mental health professional or physician for mental health problems.
Regardless of whether you're a reality TV fan, you've likely heard about the controversy surrounding a contestant of NBC's "America's Got Talent."
Timothy Poe, an amateur country singer and former Army sergeant, has come under fire for his recounting of spurious personal combat experiences to a national audience.
Poe claimed he was deployed to Iraq, received a gunshot wound and was hit by a grenade in Afghanistan. The Army can verify none of those claims. Also in serious doubt are his claims that he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and a mild traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan.
Poe backed off on some of his original claims. Understandably, the outcry over his alleged embellishments has been loud from service members, veterans, and yes, even "America's Got Talent" host Howie Mandel.
To add a touch of irony, Poe claims his faulty memory and confusion — even about his belief that he was in Iraq when it appears he wasn't — have been caused by emotional problems stemming from combat.
So, can PTSD or brain injury cause a person to be so far off about facts like this? No.
PTSD does not cause a person to lie, embellish or misremember. Ongoing amnesia and persistent disorientation are not symptoms of mild TBI. And in my experience working with combat vets, I've never seen any type of combat-related psychological issues that account for this type of behavior.
PTSD is a complex psychiatric condition characterized by persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic experience; avoidance of thoughts, people and things associated with the trauma; and myriad physiological problems.
TBI is also a complex disorder with both psychiatric and neurological symptoms. It is characterized by slight memory problems, headaches, irritability, sleeplessness, and possibly depression and anxiety.
Although PTSD and TBI are complex disorders, their symptoms are relatively similar in presentation across individuals. It's important to keep in mind that if a symptom does not seem to fit with what you know about either disorder, you may want to look for alternative explanations.
Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of using PTSD, TBI or other mental health problems as an excuse to gain favor from an individual or group, receive compensation, or elevate one's status is that it chips away at the hard work so many are doing to combat stigma and ensure that service members and veterans get good care. This type of behavior is far from harmless.