PTSD and Civil War Veterans


Veterans of the Civil War were perhaps the first to draw attention to the possible psychological consequences of combat. At the time, veterans with psychological problems, including criminality, alcoholism and addiction, violent behavior, and suicide were attributed to “nervous trouble”, “nostalgia”, “soldier’s heart”, and other vaguely defined conditions which are now known as post-traumatic stress disorder.


In this work, the authors, respectively the Senior Fellow and the Chairman of the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, devoted to the advancement of persons with disabilities, examine the effects of the war on a sampling of Union veterans, both black and white, with particular attention to the suicides now recognized as a frequent result of PTSD.


Their results, bolstered by an impressive mass of statistics, indicate that veterans had a notably higher suicide rate than men in the same social cohorts who had not served. Moreover, men who had been injured in combat or who had undergone the ordeal of being prisoners of war were even more likely to commit suicide than veterans who had been wounded or imprisoned.


While they uncovered these grim statistics, Logue and Blanck also found that veterans were more likely to be unmarried or have marital problems, more frequently suffered insanity commitments, and even were relatively less wealthy than non-veterans, though oddly African-American veterans appear to have been somewhat more prosperous than black non-veterans.


Heavy Laden, a volume in the “Cambridge Disability Law and Policy Series”, is an important read for students of veterans affairs, throwing fresh light on the problems that still affect those who served.

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