There’s been a subtle shift in the way politicians and advocates talk about veterans struggling with post-war mental illness.
The change has been adopted by former president George W. Bush and President Obama, and it appeared – for what may be the first time – in congressional legislation last week.
To drop the stigma, they’ve dropped the “D” in PTSD.
In recent months, Bush has said publicly he’d no longer use the word “disorder” when discussing veterans’ “post-traumatic stress.” At a White House event for veterans in April, Obama twice spoke about “post-traumatic stress.” He never used the word “disorder.”
“There’s a stigma attached, partly because it’s mislabeled as a disorder,” Bush said at a Chamber of Commerce event last week on veterans employment opportunities. “It’s an injury … it’s treatable.”
Now, Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) have matching bills to recognize June as “National Post-Traumatic Stress Awareness Month” and June 27, 2015, as “National Post-Traumatic Stress Awareness Day.” Again, no “disorder.”
“When we’re losing on average more than 20 veterans a day to suicide, combating the stigma around mental health-care issues could save lives. Hopefully using the term Post-Traumatic Stress without adding the negative connotation that ‘disorder’ brings will lead to a greater utilization of the mental health-care services available,” Peters told us.
Gen. Peter Chiarelli, former vice chief of staff of the Army, was the first to advocate for dropping the “D” from PTSD several years ago. In a 2012 Washington Post story on the effort, Chiarelli said, “No 19-year-old kid wants to be told he’s got a disorder.”
But it wasn’t until Chiarelli, now CEO of One Mind, went to a Bush-sponsored golf tournament late last year to honor post-9/11 service members that he persuaded Bush to also stopping calling it a “disorder.”
With Bush, then Obama and now some in Congress adopting the change, it’s starting to become more mainstream. It hasn’t been a huge overnight reversal, said Brooke Whitney, communications director of One Mind, but “the ball is slowly growing.”