Monday, May 26, 2014

Pride Not Pity

In Saturday's WSJ, Phil Klay asks that we Treat Veterans With Respect, Not Pity:

Expert estimates of the actual prevalence of PTSD vary between 11% and 20% for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration. A 2012 VA report concluded that 247,243 veterans had been diagnosed with the disorder at VA hospitals and clinics. (For some perspective on these numbers: According to experts cited by the VA, some 8% of the overall U.S. population suffers from PTSD at some point in their lives, compared with up to 10% of Desert Storm veterans and about 30% of those from Vietnam.)

Some of these diagnosed veterans are my friends, and though their injuries certainly deserve all the research and support that we as a society can give, the current narrative about PTSD does them no favors. Even the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Finkel, who has produced some of the bravest and most admirable reporting on the Iraq war and its aftermath, can fall into uncomfortable generalizations. In his recent book "Thank You for Your Service," he writes of a battalion of 800 men: "All the soldiers…came home broken in various degrees, even the ones who are fine."

I don't know what it means to be simultaneously "broken" and "fine." I do have friends with real PTSD, which they manage with varying degrees of success. I also have friends whose pride in their service is matched by feelings of sorrow, anger and bitterness. But I wouldn't classify them as "broken." If a friend of yours just died on his seventh deployment in a war that hardly makes the news anymore and you didn't feel sad, angry and bitter, perhaps that is what counts as "broken." Likewise, if the absence of any public sense that we are a nation still at war doesn't leave you feeling alienated, perhaps that means you're "broken" too.

Pity places the focus on what's wrong with veterans. But for veterans looking at the society that sent them to war, it may not feel like they're the ones with the most serious problem.