"If there's one searing lesson in making this film, it's that PTSD is definitively connected to waging war."
What sparked your interest in the project?
When we variously were working on 'Alive Day Memories' we began to see that there were not only very severe physical injuries but also psychic wounds that some of these men wanted to talk about. For them, it was really hard to talk about and, in fact, they were embarrassed to talk about it. We all had it in the back of our minds that this was an important problem and then when we all began to read about the increasing and alarming suicide rate among veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, we realized this was a pressing issue we should look into it.
At what point did you decide to focus solely on American soldiers, and why the period 1861-2010?
It could have been any war. I was listening to the BBC two nights ago and they were talking about the famous Charge of the Light Brigade. It was an account of an observer and the survivors and they were talking about the post-traumatic stress -- although they didn't know it at the time. We could have covered any war, but these were where we had the best documentation.
Between this, 'Alive Day' and 'Section 60,' what is it about the plight of the soldier that continues to interest you?
The Iraq and Afghan wars are not just the longest wars in American history, they are being fought disproportionately by a very small number of people. The burden is being borne by that small number and their families and most Americans ignore it because it's not touching them directly.
But we can't afford to ignore it any longer and we're going to have trouble affording treating this. The government has made a commitment to recognizing and treating PTSD and has also recognized the numbers of people suffering from it; it's in the many thousands. It's not an easy illness to treat, it's not easy to treat quickly and the American citizen will be paying for the cost of this treatment and should be paying for it.
It's important to acknowledge that the cost is bigger than just psychiatric care borne by the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs. We're talking about a burden on the criminal justice system -- the number of veterans getting involved in crime because of PTSD or combat stress. We're talking about the cumulative effect on the children and wives.
So just why has it taken so long for PTSD to be taken seriously?
The easiest answer is that there is a stigma for all mental illness that runs through society. It's especially acute when you're dealing with macho culture that had treated mental illness as a form of illness.
Vets themselves have not wanted there to be a big focus on PTSD and crime, because they're concerned it makes them unemployable. It's a genuine concern, but it's a double-edged sword. If we don’t recognize it for what it is, then the people who have sacrificed for us never receive treatment they deserve.
Did you have any trouble getting access to any of the doctors or General Chiarelli?
We had immediate cooperation. The only thing you don't really see is people receiving psychological care because we focused on personal narratives of post-traumatic stress and combat stress.
There's also a great respect for Jim Gandolfini and when he comes knocking, they're more than happy to open the door. In terms of making the documentary, his participation was very important for shortening the amount of time it takes to get people to really reveal some of the things that under normal circumstances it will take filmmakers some time to get to start talking about.