Army Nurse Questions Prevailing Diagnosis Of PTSD, Launches Advocacy Group

Oct 30, 2013

A new group devoted to veterans’ issues has sprung up in Northern Michigan. The woman behind it is a retired Lieutenant Colonel who believes her father suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder. She figures at least one million U.S. veterans out there suffer the same today and that the problem has been largely misdiagnosed.

When Linda Fletcher’s dad died, she cleaned out his desk and found an article about him receiving a Silver Star for his valor in Italy. Fletcher, who was an army nurse, realized he had never spoken to her about the medal.

“And then I realized that he actually had never said one word to me about his time during the war.”

Fletcher now believes her father had severe posttraumatic stress disorder. She remembers he was emotionally unavailable, “completely walled off” is how she describes him, and he had horrible nightmares.

My mother was frequently black and blue because he kicked all night” she recalls.

Fletcher started researching PTSD, began speaking publicly, and formed the group called AMOH, A Matter of Honor.

She thinks a massive public education effort is needed to counter what she calls an epidemic. Part of that is questioning why so little progress has been made treating PTSD. She says hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans still suffer from it and that fact demonstrates we are “less than effective in our management of PTSD.”

Diagnosing the problem

Two years ago Fletcher was introduced to a woman who thought she had PTSD. Fletcher, who is sure to point out she is not a psychiatrist, says it became apparent to her that the woman actually had multiple personalities. That’s when she drew a connection between PTSD and the mental disorder known today as dissociation.

Cases of multiple personalities (now called dissociative identity disorder) are the most extreme version of dissociation. The condition is usually characterized as a detachment from reality. The mental health community has just acknowledged this connection between PTSD and dissociation.

Bethany Brand teaches psychology at Towson University in Maryland and pushed for her profession to recognize the connection. Brand says if a person is feeling surreal, like you’re in a fog, that might be a form of this type of PTSD. In other cases, people might not feel like their normal selves.

“They feel physically or emotionally numbed out or they’re seeing themselves from a distance,” Brand explains. “Their sense of themselves is altered.” 

Brand says research suggests just a fraction of PTSD cases, maybe one or two out of 10, are dissociative but she knows of one prominent psychologist in the Netherlands who believes they all are.

That’s pretty much what Linda Fletcher suspects. She thinks the connection has been neglected because dissociation has been neglected. (Bethany Brand agrees.) And that has happened because those extreme cases of dissociation, the ones with multiple personalities, are so weird and have been sensationalized by Hollywood in movies like “Sybil” and “The Three Faces of Eve”.

Linda Fletcher says it is time to get past that and ask what is not being looked at.

“What stone are we failing to turn over to try to find how we can better care for this million troops we have so in need?”

Linda Fletcher thinks more inquiry might open the door for more experimentation with alternative therapies. On Veterans Day her group AMOH brings to Traverse City an Iraq veteran who enlisted a golden retriever to help adjust to life back in the U.S. Luis Carlos Montalvan wrote a book about his experience, “Until Tuesday”, and will be at Bay Pointe Church at 6:30 on November 11th.