By Gracie Doyle, Rowan Pierson, and Elle Ruggiero
Throughout history, the United States of America has made commendable efforts to care for military veterans. Yet despite years of hard work and the creation of a an incredible government-sponsored system of health care for veterans, the Veteran’s Administration (VA), many veterans do not receive the health care they require — especially as it relates to mental health care for a prevalent, life-threatening combat-related mental illness known as “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder,” or PTSD.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (DSM-V), PTSD is a severe mental disorder resulting from “exposure to one or more traumatic events,” most commonly experienced in combat (The Committee on Nomenclature, 2013). PTSD manifests differently in every individual, but most symptoms can be divided into four categories: intrusion, avoidance, alterations in cognition and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity. Intrusion describes intrusive and involuntary thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, or memories. Avoidance includes staying away from people, places or situations that remind them of the trauma. Alteration in cognition and mood describes the inability to recall important aspects of the traumatic event and distorted beliefs surrounding the event. Finally, alterations in arousal and reactivity explains emotions such as anger or irritability that result in reckless or self-destructive behavior. According to Vietnam Veteran Joseph Howe, “the day to day struggle (of PTSD) is just getting through” (Joseph Howe)
Despite efforts to care for veterans throughout history, it was not until 1980 that PTSD came to be regarded in the scientific community and at the VA as a valid diagnosis. Still today, many veterans suffering from PTSD feel that they do not receive the compassion and care they deserve. It is estimated that over 30% of Vietnam War Veterans and 11-13% of Afghanistan and Iraq War Veterans suffer from PTSD today (Gradus); it is believed that over three quarters of these veterans do not receive care (Stecker).
How we, as a nation, care for veterans suffering from PTSD is codified in larger ideas of what health is and what health care ought to include. The care that veterans receive is shaped by not only the study of medicine, but also by politics, social ideals, and economic principles. Through ethnographies and analysis of primary and secondary sources, our timeline adopts a “historically deep and geographically broad” (Farmer) lens to explore the key moments in history that most dramatically shaped how combat-related PTSD is understood, diagnosed, and treated in American society today.
Bibliography included in Sutori.