PTSD definition change could affect veterans

Pending changes in the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder could have wide-ranging implications for veterans.

The proposed definition can be found in a draft of the American Psychiatric Association’s fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The manual serves as a guide for mental health workers around the world.

The changes include removing subjective criteria such as fear and expanding definitions of traumatic events.

The introduction of the manual’s draft this month coincides with a movement to change post-traumatic stress from a disorder to an injury.

Dr. Bill Albrecht, a staff psychologist at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, said Monday that the outcome will be interesting.

“We’ll be getting rid of some problems, but we may be gaining some more,” he said.

Though dropping “disorder” from the title might reduce the stigma, skeptics warn that changing the term to “injury” could make it harder to qualify for permanent benefits. A disorder can last a lifetime; “injury” implies something that heals.

“That’s the concern,” said Dave Autry, the deputy national director of communications for Disabled American Veterans. “We’re certainly keeping an eye on it.”

The last significant update in PTSD diagnosis was in 1994 – long before it became a nationally recognized issue among service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Psychiatrists’ understanding of PTSD and its treatment has evolved significantly since the ’90s, said Albrecht, who formerly worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The movement to convert “disorder” to “injury” is spearheaded in large part by retired Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli.

Chiarelli was at a veterans care conference last week in New York that showcased Augusta’s public-private partnership with the Augusta Warrior Project, when the topic of PTSD came up, said Jim Lorraine, the executive director of the Augusta Warrior Project.

“A long-term injury is really what it is,” Lorraine said.

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