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Removing the Stigma of PTSD

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On June 20, the American Legion hosted a meeting to discuss the implications of changing the medical classification of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to post-traumatic stress (PTS). Attendees included representatives from the National Association for Uniformed Services, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Veterans of America.

The question of whether or not to take the “D” out of PTSD is a hot topic among veterans and veterans support organizations. Many feel that that calling it a disorder adds a stigma that not only impacts the veterans, but also affects the public perception of veterans in general. Others are concerned that downplaying PTSD by removing the word disorder could have a negative impact on veterans ability to get medical assistance.

On June 20, the American Legion hosted a meeting to discuss the implications of changing the medical classification of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to post-traumatic stress (PTS). Attendees included representatives from the National Association for Uniformed Services, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Veterans of America.

An American Legion report ‘Taking the D Out of PTSD’, talks about the fact that many of those who support the idea of dropping the ‘D’ believe that changing it to PTS would remove the stigma, making it easier for servicemembers and veterans to reach out for help.

Dr. Matthew Friedman, chair of the American Psychological Association’s work group on PTSD, pointed out that the Canadian armed forces call PTSD “Operational Stress Injury,” or OSI. Friedman said that the Canadians adopted the term to “soften the blow” and reduce the stigma associated with PTSD.

As noted earlier, others are concerned that dropping the ‘D’ could make it difficult for veterans to access VA programs and medical assistance. Dr. Jeanne Stellman of Columbia University and a member of the Legion’s committee on Traumatic Brain Injury/PTSD, asked, “What will be the effect on health-care delivery?” Adding, “This is much more important than the presence or the absence of the ‘D.’”

Stellman agrees that the “D” in PTSD carries a social stigma that needs to be dealt with. “Many people think our entire group of veterans are all nutsy because they have been exposed to combat.” She also made the point that education can help overcome the stigma as in the cases of breast cancer and HIV/AIDS.

According to the Legion report, Dr. Stellman said PTSD is classified as a disorder because human responses vary in range, while diseases usually have more consistent symptoms. Whether conditions are diseases, symptoms or something else, they all must have medical classifications, which are fundamental to the operation of the entire health-care system. “Patients must have classification codes in order to get treatment — they have to map into the world of medicine,” she said.

Participants were reminded that PTSD can be a lifelong affliction that needs medical attention and social support — but it does not need denial.

The American Legion’s ad hoc committee on Traumatic Brain Injury/PTSD plans to issue its findings and recommendations in a full report this fall.

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