Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

PTSD (III): “our own postwar neurosis”?

One reader of this blog, David McCracken, in response to an earlier posting suggested reading this article on PTSD that ran in Scientific American earlier this year. It’s worth reading. Essentially it argues that the diagnosis of PTSD is being “wildly, even dangerously, overextended.” I think that may be true in some ways. But it ...

583590_090715_meds2.jpg
583590_090715_meds2.jpg

One reader of this blog, David McCracken, in response to an earlier posting suggested reading this article on PTSD that ran in Scientific American earlier this year.

It's worth reading. Essentially it argues that the diagnosis of PTSD is being "wildly, even dangerously, overextended." I think that may be true in some ways. But it seems to assume that having PTSD means being disabled. (And he shows how the U.S. government's benefit system seems to push veterans in that direction.) Yet, he says, he can point to a veteran he knows who supposedly is at risk, yet functions just fine, at home, at work and in society.

One reader of this blog, David McCracken, in response to an earlier posting suggested reading this article on PTSD that ran in Scientific American earlier this year.

It’s worth reading. Essentially it argues that the diagnosis of PTSD is being “wildly, even dangerously, overextended.” I think that may be true in some ways. But it seems to assume that having PTSD means being disabled. (And he shows how the U.S. government’s benefit system seems to push veterans in that direction.) Yet, he says, he can point to a veteran he knows who supposedly is at risk, yet functions just fine, at home, at work and in society.

But I found a lot to disagree with here. First, I know plenty of people who I think have PTSD, yet function extremely well. That doesn’t mean they don’t have it. That just means they have learned to handle it, or even have moved on.  

I got the sense that the article’s author, David Dobbs, and the researchers he interviewed know a lot more about psychiatry than they do about war. For example, I find it entirely possible that PTSD rates are higher for Iraq than they were in Vietnam. First, there is no safe, rear area in Iraq — even the Green Zone has taken plenty of rockets. Second, and more significantly, the proportion of soldiers and Marines doing multiple combat tours is much higher in Iraq than it was in Vietnam, where there were lots of draftees who did one tour and then got out. 

I find Dobbs more persuasive when he argues that there is a “cultural obsession” with PTSD. “It may be our own postwar neurosis.”

K!T/Flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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