MacLeish, Kenneth Thomas

Approve Date
Grant Year
2016

Preliminary abstract: This project will examine how expert and lay ideas about war-related psychiatric diagnosis operate in non-military spaces of veteran care in military community in the US south. I aim to understand how diagnoses for posttraumatic stress disorder and smptomologically adjacent depressive and anxiety conditions serve as points of reference and venues of contestation through which people make sense of war's impacts in everyday life. Diagnoses name experience, identify disease, and serve as evidence for care and compensation. But they are also objects of debate and uncertainty, especially as they follow veterans out of the closed settings of Army and VA medicine, intertwine with everyday post-military life, and become the purview of lawyers, spouses, therapists, caseworkers, clergy, and other lay advocates. This study examines the rhetorical and practical roles of diagnoses in a faith-based trauma recovery group, a veteran treatment court, and a network of civilian mental health care providers. Within and across these sites, veterans, their spouses, and advocates and care providers struggle over the extent to which a diagnosed condition explains experience or motivates behavior, and debate which other frameworks can pick up where diagnosis is seen to leave off, including faith, character, personal responsibility, self-control, care for others, and the law. The project seeks to understand how these actors work through problems of agency, recognition, legitimacy, and care that arise at this intersection of medical definitions with lived experience. This project aims to show how the naming of war-related mental distress is not just a problem the better or worse fit between a label and a pathology, but instead an assemblage of practices, relationships, and embodied and affective experiences through which suffering is produced as a subjective, relational and institutional phenomenon.