Bioethics Conference

“Down & Out: Ethical Treatment of War Related PTSD in LGBT Veterans” by Jennifer Terry

Respondent: Beth Linker

A central claim of this talk was that victims of PTSD should not all be ranked equally. They must be distinguished from one another to treat their specific needs as per categories including race, class, rank, and sexual preference. Professor Terry described how those soldiers who were women, of lower socioeconomic status, of lower rank, or those in certain units were subject to PTSD in disproportionate numbers. She believed that this imbalance has to be examined in order for differential diagnoses and treatments that more adequately address the needs of people in these different groups. Citing the phrase “Double PTSD” as coined by Danny Ingram, she also described how, under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, gay and lesbian soldiers were scarred both by war and by the pressure of hiding their identity. It was also hard for them to get treatment for their PTSD or MST (military sexual trauma), for this could have involved revealing their true sexual orientations. Professor Terry proposed that the specific forms of trauma experienced by these different groups must be recognized and analyzed so that they can be treated differently and more effectively. She also argued that this could allow trauma to become a path to solidarity amongst groups.

I found this claim of Professor Terry’s, that trauma could be considered a point of cohesion and a resource to help build self and community, especially provocative. Professor Terry was describing how those of different groups who experience different forms of trauma can still utilize their shared experience of trauma to band together and to argue for rights that could help guard against such trauma – rights for LGBQI individuals as well as women, those of lower economic status, etc. However, she also described how veterans suffering from PTSD have a hard time adapting to their lives at home, as people cannot understand their condition. On the one hand, trauma as unifying may allow that trauma to be accepted by victims and give them support through solidarity. On the other, this would seem to distance them further from the rest of society. While I agree with Professor Terry that the military’s negligence with regards to those suffering from war related PTSD (trauma that occurs outside of combat), especially of the groups previously stated, should be eradicated, I think that the trauma itself may not be the best root for the solidarity amongst those groups. This reminded me of Bell Hooks describing why victimization should not be the basis for female solidarity (Hooks 128). As she described for women, it may not benefit LGBTQI soldiers and veterans as a whole to identify themselves with trauma, to view themselves as victims in war even more than they may already be in society. But is there a way for LGBQI soldiers to receive aid for the “double PTSD” they may suffer without them labeling themselves as constant Double PTSD victims?

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