Wounds, both physical and psychological, are the wages of war. Through all our nation’s wars, American servicemen and women have paid terrible psychological tolls. With depressing regularity, soldiers have suffered from “irritable heart,” “shell shock,” “battle fatigue,” and most recently “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
Since the mid-nineteenth century, at the end of each war, the military and medical communities have endeavored to find successful methods for treating psychological injuries in future wars. This resulted in a cycle of both successful and failed practices oftentimes punctuated by society’s influences.
Accordingly, the increase of psychological injuries resulting from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has created a newfound interest in military psychiatry among military and medical professionals alike. War related psychological injuries, specifically PTSD, remain a controversial subject. Despite the considerable attention the subject has received over the last decade, the prevalence of PTSD in non-combat units has received relatively little scholarly attention.
Additionally, most research conducted over the past ten years has based its assumptions on controversial criteria. Therefore, it is not surprising that few medical or military professionals have considered with any gravity the unique circumstances experienced by non-combat units during and after deployments and the resultant consequences on mental health.
Specifically, why is PTSD, or a more recent term “PTSD-like symptoms,” so prevalent in the Army despite them not having engaged in the traditional combat experiences that led to psychological injuries among the WWII, Korea, and Vietnam War generations?
Although the answer is neither clear nor simple, Vietnam anti-war rhetoric and policies that served to acknowledge the plight of Vietnam Veterans influenced current military policy and medical practices. This influence in turn created an environment where society, the military, and the medical community expects and accepts PTSD. As a result, we see an increase of PTSD cases in the Army.
Most soldiers do not suffer from the traditional Vietnam-era PTSD that society associates with the unstable, victimized Vietnam Veteran. Rather most soldiers suffer as the recipients of the Vietnam Legacy and the invention of PTSD. The broadened definition of PTSD practically guarantees that every soldier deployed meets the criteria for PTSD.
Let us not make the same mistakes we have made in the past and wrongfully label our brave men and women as having an ill-conceived mental disorder. Soldiers are trained to be resilient and can endure much more than certain psychiatrists lead us to believe.