In a recent article published on the Public Broadcasting System’s (PBS) NewsHour, military and phsychiatric professionals debated the merits of changing “PTSD” to a less stigmatizing and potentially more accurate term.
Former Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli made his case for the change last October and was recently seconded by two top psychiatrists, including Dr Jonathan Shay, whose published works include Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and the excellent Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming - which I read on my flight to Iraq in 2006. I am in full agreement with General Chiarelli’s and Doctor Shay’s recommendation to relabel PTSD as Post Traumatic Stress Injury or something equivalent in order to help destigmatize it and accurately reflect its true nature as an invisible physical wound suffered from contact with the enemy.
In a previous blog titled A Legion of Shadows I made the case from personal experience and anecdotal evidence to define combat-induced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a physiological wound of war. I am pleased that certain influential senior military officers and world-renowned psychiatrists are largely in agreement with my rationale.
The crux of the stigma associated with the psychological definition of PTSD is that it infers that the “disorder” comes from a subject’s mental predisposition to be negatively affected by a traumatic event. In the military – and in other social circles – such an inference is often sneered at as weakness. Yet, in my personal experience from two combat tours in Iraq during the worst years of 2005-2007 and my association with scores of combat veterans, no one escapes unscathed from significant and prolonged contact with the enemy. Regardless of “predisposition”, every combat veteran is changed by his experience, and the effects of that change might rightly be classified as an injury.
In the interest of furthering public discourse on this important subject, I ask the reader to share recommendations for or against reclassifying PTSD as an injury rather than a disorder.
The reader may be interested in sharing such recommendations at Dr. Shay’s website advocating for the American Psychiatric Association to change the name of PTSD to Post Traumatic Stress Injury.