ARLINGTON, Va. _ The title of HBO's new documentary, "Wartorn: 1861-2010," suggests a bit of a boring history lesson, but instead the unflinching look at PTSD reveals just how universal the struggles of today's servicemembers really are.
The sobering documentary, which will air on Veterans Day, opens with the story of a Civil War soldier who enlisted with stars and stripes in his eyes. His letters over the years grow less enthusiastic about the cause and more troubled by the daily death of comrades. He is eventually hospitalized and sent home, where he kills himself.
The soldier's problems were called "hysteria" and "melancholia," but the statements of his friends and family could have easily been made yesterday about an Iraq War veteran.
HBO premiered the documentary last night at the Pentagon to a room full of uniforms, including Adm. Mike Mullen and Gen. George Casey. Felt like a turning point that the military's top brass so fully embraced and supported an outsider's project on a topic they hardly even gave credence to at the start of the current wars.
"Wartorn" flips between veterans of past wars and those of the Iraq and Afghanistan era. It includes footage of battlefield interviews with WWII soldiers who had "shell shock," Vietnam and WWII veterans talking about the nightmares they still have to this day, and parents of servicemembers who did tours in Iraq and then took their own life.
Col. Charles Engel, who is director of the Army's Deployment Health Clinical Center and was interviewed in the documentary, said today that although it's hard for the military to see on screen, the dark film fairly portrays how far the military has to go in handling PTSD.
There is one wrenching scene where a father of a soldier who killed himself reads a doctor's notes dismissing his son's symptoms as imaginary and sending him back to the field.
James Gandolfini executive produced the documentary and sat down in Iraq with Gen. Ray Ordierno and at the Pentagon with Gen. Pete Chiarelli to talk about how the military deals with mentally struggling servicemembers. Gandolfini, best known for playing a ruthless mobster on "Sopranos" who ended up in therapy to sort out his feelings, is an inspired choice to interview the Army's top leaders about PTSD.
Watch the trailor here.
For more information on PTSD, visit the VA's National Center for PTSD