Is PTSD a Disorder or Injury for Veterans?

Brain Injury Blog by Marilyn Lash, M.S.W.

May 18, 2012

Is PTSD a Disorder or Injury for Veterans?

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about the debate over changing the name of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This is a hot topic right now for several reasons. Many service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are having symptoms of PTSD and having difficulty making the transition to civilian life as they wrestle with such classic symptoms as nightmares, avoidance, flashbacks, and emotional withdrawal. Despite the increased efforts of the military health care system to conduct screenings for PTSD symptoms as service members return to the US for early diagnosis and treatment, many service members and veterans still resist seeking mental health care due to its perceived stigma. Seeking treatment can be even further delayed for those service members who may “pass” early screenings and then experience a delayed onset of symptoms over time after they return home or are redeployed.

The other major factor is the American Psychiatric Association is updating its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – often referred to by clinicians as the DSM – IV. This is the resource that clinicians rely on for diagnostic criteria. The diagnosis is critical for everything from appropriate clinical care to prescribing medications to billing charges. The current criteria for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder is well documented. The web page at is a great resource for families, veterans, and clinicians as it is clearly written in user friendly language.

There’s major discussions going on about replacing the word “disorder” with “injury” to lessen the mental stigma so often associated with the current term. There has also been consideration of shortening it to simply “post-traumatic stress”. It’s a complicated issue that can have major impact on both service providers as well as consumers of services.

While the medical community and various experts debate the pros and cons of PTSD terminology, I am reminded of a more informal but powerful discussion among the wives of wounded warriors in retreats held around the country by Operation Homefront. Led by Marshele Waddell of Hope for the Homefront,  she addressed the negative connotations of the current “label.” Many of the women report that they and their husbands find the term “disorder” so negative that it diminishes their hopes for improvement or recovery.

Instead, Marshele suggests refocusing on the process of living with PTSD and calls it “Passing Through Someplace Dark.”  This alternative “label” or “term” or whatever you choose to call it resonated with the women of wounded warriors. It gave them hope that PTSD is not akin to a terminal diagnosis lacking hope, rather it reflects the journey of living with PTSD. Most important is the concept of “passing through” because it means moving on to a better place. This gives them hope that their husbands will improve, that the symptoms of PTSD will lessen over time, that treatment can help, and that their lives and marriages can continue to evolve in positive ways.


PTSD Tool Kit for Veterans and Families

By Janelle Breese Biagioni, Tonya Hellard, Dianne Kane, DSW, CGP, Marilyn Lash, M.S.W., Suzanne B. Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP, Soili Poijula, Ph.D., Nadia Webb, Ph.D, Mary Beth Williams, Ph.D., LCSW

3 responses to “Is PTSD a Disorder or Injury for Veterans?”

  1. As a woman with TBI paired with PTSD, that was complicated by the brain injury, I can see from spect imaging that there is not enough blood flow to some areas in my brain – that sounds like injury to me – I didn’t start out this way as an infant. In addition, Brain State Conditioning shows injuries to my brain’s functioning. BSC analyzes the balance of alpha, beta, gamma, theta, and delta waves and more and see the imbalance that resulted from trauma 6-10 years ago – car accident for me, and intrusion to my space at ages 2-6, trauma in my childhood. Amazing technology that psychiatrists and medical persons need to learn about to help them see that there is injury to brain when one is diagnosed with PTSD. has information and videos of the founder, Lee Gerdes. It has helped me like no other treatment, like no drugs, and given me my life back! I can’t say enough good about this technology!!!

  2. Marilyn Lash says:

    Thanks for your comment. Marshele Waddell has also offered Passing Through the Shadow of the Divine for those whose faith sustains them as they live with the effects of PTSD.

  3. I like that “Passing Through Someplace Dark.” Listening to the Bible has been great healing for me! Thanks for the article. Now as a GRATEFUL NATION let’s get behind and support our wounded warriors trying to make a living and raise a family. I’m commenting on behalf of Wounded Warrior Veterans of The Wounded Warrior Directory who have ventured into self employment and started their own businesses due to the high unemployment rate among veterans. The Wounded Warrior Directory is a nation wide directory of almost 6000 Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses where the veteran owner has a disability that occurred in the service to their country. Businesses looking for subcontractors, teaming partners for Government business and anyone interested in helping in this deserving cause please do so by visiting us and helping to promote the businesses of the Wounded Warrior Veteran Owned Business Directory at OOH-RAH! Semper Fi! Thank you for your support!

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