Doctor Heads To Iraq To Counsel Troops

The dusty roads of Baghdad don't have much in common with the sterile halls of St. Catherine's Hospital in East Chicago, Ind. But the damage done on the Iraqi streets makes its way here, to the office of Dr. Glen Wurglitz.

Wurglitz has treated returning troops for symptoms of post-traumatic stress, which is all too common these days. Wurglitz is more closely involved than most stateside doctors — he's a member of the Army Reserve, and will be shipping out to Iraq this summer.

"We're constantly reminding people that stress happens," he told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "And it happens when you least expect it. And it happens in ways that you don't expect."

A Pentagon task force announced last month that the military is drastically unprepared to deal with the crush of mental health issues American troops face. Recent estimates show more than one-third of all troops, across all branches of the military, are dealing with post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression.

Wurglitz has been training in Minnesota since May and plans to leave for Iraq this month. He expects to be there for more than a year. Wurglitz has already served as a psychologist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center — he was there for the first year of this conflict and there when Jessica Lynch hit the tarmac. He was there for the hundreds of physically and mentally wounded troops transported to Germany.

"I think that war is the most stressful event that a human being can experience in her or his lifetime so helping people understand that they are experiencing common reactions to horribly uncommon events," Wurglitz said.

Tim Miller was one of those people. He was deployed as a medic with the Indiana National Guard, he served in Mosul, and got counseling from Dr. Wurglitz when he returned.

"It was hard to come home understanding that it had been a year and you had changed as a person and that people at home also had lives and they changed as people too," he said. "(Wurglitz) helped me realize that rebuilding your life, it's OK to do it with someone else, it's OK to get a little help."

Dr. Wurglitz is uniquely qualified for this line of work. Before he became a psychologist, he was a priest in one of Chicago's worst neighborhoods. There were 42 kids killed in his parish area alone.

"Kids, all of them shot in the head," Wurglitz said. "One-time multiple funerals."

He knows what horrors people are capable of and he knows he'll face the same in Iraq and that his mission is larger than just one parish.

"When a soldier is deployed it's not only a soldier that is deployed," he said. "It's a soldier and the soldier's family, friends coworkers, so my deployment impacts not only my family and my friends but also this hospital."

"We're gonna miss him," psychologist and social worker Javier Flores said. "When we're in this void, everyone's affected: staff, our patients, the whole work that we do, so we're contending with it but the war's come home."

But the doctor knows he'll be more valuable on the front lines — where the grunts are in the worst of it — where, he hopes, he can help them cope.

"Grieving is a messy process," Wurglitz said. "So you have to step in it, have to sit in it, have to experience it, so that you can heal in it."
  • Caitlin Johnson

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