In this article, Sebastian Junger proposes that short-term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a normal reaction to a stressful event, but long-term PTSD only affects about 20% of those exposed to trauma, and therefore qualifies as a disorder. His assertion that short-term PTSD is not a disorder neglects the fact that the 'disorder' label is what allows veterans' access to treatments. Junger also problematically lists risk-factors for developing PTSD, but does not reveal the social issues that contribute to those characteristics' elevated risk for developing PTSD. (For example, by saying 'females' have a greater risk for PTSD, Junger gives the illusion that women have weaker psyches. Instead, he should have explicitly stated that women are more likely to experience certain traumas, such as sexual trauma, which has stronger connections to developing PTSD than other types of trauma).
Junger does, however, describe some of the challenges with treating PTSD, including the fact that combat veterans have good and bad memories associated with their deployments, complicating separation of the good from the bad. He also usefully discusses the history of psychological effects of combat trauma and their attribution to 'neuroses, shell shock, or simple cowardice.' While PTSD is not a new phenomenon, it has reached its highest rate in the US in history, making it a salient issue for medical professionals and politicians today.
As for solutions, Junger argues that screening for preexisting mental disorders is 'the most effective action that the U.S. military could take to reduce veteran suicide', but this contradicts his notion that acute PTSD is a normal reaction for anyone who experiences trauma. Although the connection between PTSD and suicide is not clear, Junger argues for biological or personal causation in suicide, but contrastingly supports environment causation for PTSD.
Junger most convincingly asserts that the heart of the PTSD issue in veterans is their re-entry into society. Different from prior wars, not as many members of the population are affected by current conflicts as many states have removed their drafts and professionalized their armies, which translates to more deployments for fewer people. Junger takes issue with societies and their relative lack of communal spirit, creating relatively new levels of isolation for veterans. Although the 'thank you for your service' culture is arguably an improvement from the outward disrespect shown to Vietnam veterans when they returned home, today's disengaged populous still makes it difficult for veterans to participate in collective healing processes.
Junger strengthens his argument by comparing the PTSD rates in the US to those in Israel, a country where the experience of war is more diffused with mandatory military service requirements for all citizens. The PTSD rate in Israel is currently estimated at one percent, giving credence to his argument that PTSD rates will only decrease when the entire society feels the burden of being at war and creates spaces for veterans to openly share their experiences of war.
In the words of anthropologist Bill West, 'If enough people in society are sick, you have to wonder whether it isn't actually society that's sick.'
Given the profound alienation that afflicts modern society, when combat vets say that they want to go back to war, they may be having an entirely healthy response to the perceived emptiness of modern life. One way to change this dynamic might be to emulate the Israelis and mandate national service...also...better integrate people of different ethnic and religious groups...we could emulate many tribal societies..by replacing them [parades] with some form of homecoming ceremony...“I support the troops” would then mean...showing up at your town hall every Veterans Day to hear these people out...a community ceremony like that would finally return the experience of war to our entire nation... We keep wondering how to save the vets, but the real question is how to save ourselves. If we do that, the vets will be fine. If we don’t, it won’t matter anyway.