A public hearing today in Philadelphia will draw attention to a lesser known debate about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.Its name.
The military hopes to remove stigma associated with PTSD — by replacing “disorder” with the word “injury”— which could encourage troops, and even civilians who suffer from it, to seek treatment instead of bottling it up out of shame.
Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post reports the issue is coming to the forefront because the American Psychiatric Association’s “bible of mental illnesses” — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — is being updated for the first time in 12 years.
To put that into context, the events of 9/11 and the start of the Afghan and Iraq wars have all occurred since the manual was last revised. In this recent time span, the term “PTSD” has often cropped up negatively in the public sphere whenever a service member or veteran commits an inexplicable crime, even though the disorder may not be the cause whatsoever. Frustratingly, this leads to PTSD developing an unwarranted bad rap.
High-level Pentagon officials have previously tried shortening the label to just Post-Traumatic Stress or PTS. But without a firm designation as a “disease, disorder or injury” the medical community is cautious about picking up the shortened label due to “concerns that insurers and government bureaucrats would not be willing to pay for a condition that wasn’t explicitly labelled,” finds Jaffe.
So the proposed alternative of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury came about. Supporters of the switch point out that the illness is caused by an external force, much like how an injury is afflicted upon someone. And “injury” suggests that it can be healed. That shred of optimism could outweigh the stigma, prompting sufferers to accept medical help. But the change could have inadvertent consequences:
The relatively straightforward request, which originated with the U.S. Army, has raised new questions over the causes of PTSD, the best way to treat the condition and the barriers that prevent troops from getting help. The change also could have major financial implications for health insurers and federal disability claims.
…A shift to “injury” could make it harder for service members to collect permanent-disability payments for their condition from the government, some experts warned…: “This change is about medicine, but it is also about compensation. We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.”
While a name change may encourage people to seek treatment without fear of humiliation, those very same people will hit a devastating wall if their disability benefits don’t cover an illness that’s missing a word — a cruel irony that highlights the importance of making level-headed decisions about this issue.
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