History Professor’s Book Explores Army’s Efforts to Combat PTSD

Created: April 2, 2019
Last Updated: August 6, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (April 2, 2019)–As a historian, David Kieran, Ph.D. has always been interested in how Americans understand the military’s place in society. His new book, Signature Wounds: The Untold Story of the Military’s Mental Health Crisis, available April 2 from NYU Press, challenges a common misconception about the military and addresses one of the most serious issues its members face.

The book shows how PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and suicide became the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how they prompted change within the Army, and how mental health became a factor in the debates about the impact of these conflicts on U.S. culture.

“Stories of service members suffering from PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and taking their own lives dominated media coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” said Kieran, assistant professor of history at Washington & Jefferson College. “The mental health of soldiers and their families posed clinical challenges, but they also shaped Americans’ perceptions of how these wars had affected their nation.”

Kieran draws on previously unreleased documents and oral histories to explore the Army’s efforts to understand and address PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury, challenging a common public misconception that the military was unwilling to address the human toll of the wars.

Signature Wounds explores the story of different groups—soldiers, veterans and their families, anti-war politicians, researchers and clinicians, and military leaders—and how they approach addressing mental health from different perspectives and with different agendas.

It also looks at how medical knowledge advances at a different pace than the needs of an Army at war, how medical conditions intersect with larger political questions about militarism and foreign policy.

Kieran said Signature Wounds asks readers to view the military as a complex institution that struggled with organizational change under very trying circumstances. In doing so, he said, it challenges popular notions of a disengaged and ineffective bureaucracy that did little for service members.

Perhaps more importantly, Kieran said, it asks readers to contemplate the consequences of Americans’ embrace of militarism and willingness to engage in perpetual warfare.

“Contemplating the psychological consequences of war, I hope, will lead Americans to be more circumspect about how we use military force in the world.”

Kieran is also the author of Forever Vietnam: How a Divisive War Changed American Public Memory, and the editor of The War of My Generation: Youth Culture and the War on Terror.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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