Some of the 52 freed American hostages are suffering from depression, feelings of guilt and other symptoms of psychriatric illness, the head of the medical team examining them at the Air Force hospital here said today.
"A number of those released are exhibiting symptoms of transient psychiatric ailments, including posttraumatic stress syndrome, which are directly related to their captivity in Iran," said Dr. Jerome Korcak, the State Department's medical director and the leader of the interagency team examining and debriefing the returning Americans.
He refused to say how many or identify which of the former hostages were seriously affected. But he confirmed reports from hospital employes and visitors that at least a few are so depressed that they are not participating in activities planned for them, including some of the medical interviews and testing.
Korcak said these problems were "treatable" and that group and individual therapy has begun here and will continue in the United States. a
"These people will not be disabled permanently," Korcak added.
The problems are more severe than those suffered by the 13 hostages released within a few weeks of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, Korcak said. But he added, "They're about what we expected, a range of mental states, some more seriously affected than others."
Hospital employes and visitors have told of an unidentified older former hostage who has seldom left his room and of a younger one who attends but does not participate in group activities and appears to be very depressed.
Some of the depressed returnees, Korcak said, "feel guilty about some of the statements they made on television in Iran at the insistence of their captors." They criticzed the shah and U.S. support of him in these broadcasts.
"We don't feel that's entirely appropriate," Korcak said of their guilt feelings. "They were subjected to extreme duress to make those statements. One made a statement on camera after being promised his colleagues would be released if he did so. Another was promised he would be returned to attend the funeral of his mother, who in fact had not died."
He said the symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome included "sleep disturbances, startled reactions, flashbacks from ordinary stimuli such as the slamming of a door, which can bring back feelings experienced in captivity."
Many of the hostages have appeared on the balcony of their third-floor quarters at the hospital, been seen walking around the grounds, spoken briefly with reporters outside and mingled inside with hospital and base personnel.
They have mostly appeared healthy, alert and cheerful, although Korcak said they are being checked in interviews and psychological tests for "depression that might be masked by the euphoria of release."
Although doctors found little remaining evidence of physical injuries, Korcak said, "many of the hostages described beatings," including being "punched about the body, and in some cases kicked in the groin." He said one released hostage has "complained of ringing in his ears from being kicked in the head."
There was a "universal weight loss" among the former hostages of from 10 to 80 pounds each, he said. Doctors also found in their examinations of them "symptoms of vitamin deficiency and malnutrition earlier in captivity," although they had been given vitamin tablets for the final several months. Some former hostages have said the food also improved dramatically just before their release.
Korcak said they were treated particularly badly when being dispersed through Iran after the aborted American military mission to rescue them.
"Some were bound and trussed and thrown into the backs of trucks," he said. "Some have described it as being like sacks of garbage."
As a result of their mistreatment, Korcak said, the freed hostages exhibit no signs of the so-called "Stockholm Syndrome," a gradual bonding of captors and captives particularly evident among hostages held by trapped robbers in a Swedish bank some years ago.
"Quite the reverse," Korcak said, "we have seen a universal hostility to all things Iranian."
One released hostage, Bruce German, asked by reporters today about the Stockholm Syndrome, said, "If that ever happens, I'll be flabbergasted. Impossible."
The returnees again had "critical questions" about how the U.S. government had handled their captivity when they met late last night with former secretary of state Cyrus Vance for 2 1/2 hours. Vance has been in charge here of their return to the United States.
State Department spokesman Jack Cannon characterized the meeting as "exceedingly interesting and valuable" for exchanging information and perceptions. Vance began with a "chronology of everything that the U.S. government had done from the day the hostages were taken to the day they were released," Cannon said.
As they had with former president Carter, the returnees then asked Vance many questions -- "some of them critical" according to Cannon, "about the whole episode."
"The rescue attempt did come up," Cannon said. Vance, who resigned from the Carter administration in opposition to it, "answered all questions directly, including specifically his role," Cannon said.
The tests and counseling being carried out here before the released hostages complete their return home Sunday, Korcak said, are designed to ready them for adjustment to freedom, as well as to meet their families, the public and the press.
Talking through their experiences with their families could help them adjust, he said.
Most of the freed hostages' relatives have obeyed State Department instructions that it would be better for them to wait for face-to-face reunions until the returnees reach the United States.
Among the few relatives who have met returnees here are Allyssa Keough, who flew from Vermont, to see her father, educator William Keough, and the wife of Marine Corps medic Donald Hohman. She is a West German national who lives here.
Hohman left the hospital last evening to spend the night with his wife at home and returned today to join the others for the routine of examinations, interviews and group activities.