Around 2,000 mentally ill veterans were lobotomized in the years during and after World War II, according to a Wall Street Journal report published Wednesday.
The Journal came upon a collection of memos, letters and government reports that described the Veterans Association’s use of the brain-altering operations in 1,930 documented cases, with reason to believe more procedures had occurred during gaps in the records. According to the report, the operations were performed on former servicemen that had been diagnosed as “depressives, psychotics and schizophrenics, and occasionally on people identified as homosexuals.”
A lobotomy procedure involved severing connections between the pre-frontal area and the rest of the brain, which were, at the time, thought to promote “excessive and compulsive” emotions.
Lobotomies were reportedly used in VA hospitals as final answer if other treatments used in attempts to treat mentally ill veterans — such as alternating high-pressure blasts of hot and cold water, insulin-induced comas and electroshock therapy — were deemed ineffective. The operations, the Journal says, sometimes helped with the symptoms that would today commonly fall under post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, the procedures were often reported to leave the patients in a state described as “overgrown children,” unable to care for themselves. Seizures, amnesia, motor function loss and even death were other common outcomes.
The Wall Street Journal’s report, “The Lobotomy Files: Forgotten Soldiers,” digs into the VA’s use of lobotomy in the 40s and 50s and tells the story of World War II bomber Roman Tritz, who spent eight years in a VA hospital after the war and was lobotomized just before his 30th birthday.