Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Paul Brodwin

Committee Members

Amy Harley, Erica Bornstein, Kalman Applbaum, Michael Oldani


Medicalization, Military Culture, OIF/OEF Veterans, Personhood, PTSD, Stigma


Medical experts claim that Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among United States military service personnel, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan has contributed to an “epidemic of suicide” in the U.S. However, veterans, military commanders, and mental health providers argue that feelings of grief, guilt, mistrust, rage, and alienation are actually normal moral reactions to the abnormal situations that war creates. Furthermore, they argue that these normal reactions are currently transformed into a psychiatric diagnosis that promises clinical solution – a cure. Recent epidemiologic studies suggest that evidence-based clinical treatments are ineffective for a majority of veterans with PTSD and that the main barrier to seeking treatment is self-stigma by veterans. This ethnography interrogates the failure in care and vectors of blame that surround it by documenting veterans’ own critical reactions to being diagnosed and/or labeled with PTSD. These narratives provide a moment to critically examine the medicalization and commodification of trauma, as well as the bureaucratization of care, that continue to negatively impact what I describe as veteranhood – a deep constellation of personal and military values. Everyday life for veterans becomes a clash of cultural models, worldviews and various stakeholders of their care. The lack of common ground or “cultural consonance” (versus PTSD/stigma) lies behind the social processes that contribute to veterans’ uneven reintegration into civilian life. This ethnography provides counter-narratives of emergent veteranhood that challenge the dominant cultural script of “stigma as the main barrier to care.” These narratives dismantle concepts of self-stigma by shifting the focus from the standard trauma model of victimization towards a productive veteranhood, where agency remains essential to identity and everyday life. Veterans that reframe the post-effects of war as an issue of cultural dissonance, as opposed to a mental disorder, are creating new personal scripts for healing that a medical anthropology and caregivers must account for. Veterans desire solutions for their distress within their communities, their culture(s), not within the confines of a medical clinic or within the categorical parameters of PTSD.