WASHINGTON -- Matt LaBranche got the tattoos at a seedy place down the street from the Army hospital here where he was a patient in the psychiatric ward.
The pain of the needle felt good to the 40-year-old former Army sergeant, whose memories of his nine months as a machine-gunner in Iraq had left him, he said, "feeling dead inside." LaBranche's back is now covered in images, the largest the dark outline of a sword. Drawn from his neck to the small of his back, it is emblazoned with the words LaBranche says encapsulate the war's effect on him: "I've come to bring you hell."
In soldiers like LaBranche -- their bodies whole but their psyches deeply wounded -- a crisis is unfolding, mental health experts say. One out of six soldiers returning from Iraq is suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress -- and as more come home, that number is widely expected to grow.
The Pentagon, which did not anticipate the extent of the problem, is scrambling to find resources to address it.
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