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"If you consider Iraq―like I do, probably twenty-nine out of thirty days―to be the pinnacle of your life, then where do you go from there? And I'm sure that a lot of veterans feel that way. To them, that was it. That was everything. So now what? They have to find something meaningful and purposeful."
"When I got back from Afghanistan, there was not even so much as a briefing that said, 'Let us know if you're having problems.' There wasn't so much as a phone number. There was literally nothing."
"I knew it was crazy. I was thinking, the guy on the roof's either a sniper or he's going to radio ahead. And then I thought, this is San Antonio. There's not snipers on the roof, nobody's going to blow me up here."
"Whenever I look at people back here at home, I know what they're going to look like dead. I know what they look like with their brains blown out or jaws blown off or eyes pulled out. When I look at somebody I see that, to this day."
―Voices of veterans interviewed in Fields of Combat
For many of the 1.6 million U.S. service members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, the trip home is only the beginning of a longer journey. Many undergo an awkward period of readjustment to civilian life after long deployments. Some veterans may find themselves drinking too much, unable to sleep or waking from unspeakable dreams, lashing out at friends and loved ones. Over time, some will struggle so profoundly that they eventually are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress Disorder (PTSD).
Both heartbreaking and hopeful, Fields of Combat tells the story of how American veterans and their families navigate the return home. Following a group of veterans and their personal stories of war, trauma, and recovery, Erin P. Finley illustrates the devastating impact PTSD can have on veterans and their families. Finley sensitively explores issues of substance abuse, failed relationships, domestic violence, and even suicide and also challenges popular ideas of PTSD as incurable and permanently debilitating.
Drawing on rich, often searing ethnographic material, Finley examines the cultural, political, and historical influences that shape individual experiences of PTSD and how its sufferers are perceived by the military, medical personnel, and society at large. Despite widespread media coverage and public controversy over the military's response to wounded and traumatized service members, debate continues over how best to provide treatment and compensation for service-related disabilities. Meanwhile, new and highly effective treatments are revolutionizing how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides trauma care, redefining the way PTSD itself is understood in the process. Carefully and compassionately untangling each of these conflicts, Fields of Combat reveals the very real implications they have for veterans living with PTSD and offers recommendations to improve how we care for this vulnerable but resilient population.
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Erin P. Finley is a medical anthropologist and Investigator at the Veterans Evidence-Based Research Dissemination and Implementation Center (VERDICT), Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Division of Clinical Epidemiology, Department of Medicine, at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio.Review:
"Most of what we have learned about the personal costs of wartime trauma comes from veterans' experiences in post-Vietnam America. Things are different now. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are different, the injuries are often different, and the homeland's attitude to its veterans is different. Fields of Combat is an anthropologist's inquiry into the lives of a new generation of traumatized veterans and the people and institutions to which they have returned. Post-traumatic stress disorder is widely presumed to be a unitary and fully understood phenomenon. Erin P. Finley's engrossing ethnography corrects this profoundly mistaken view."(Allan Young, McGill University)
"Fields of Combat documents the PTSD experience as it is lived by veterans of the Iraq War. In presenting the range of responses to PTSD, Erin P. Finley shows how they can be inflected by gender, ethnicity, and personal background. Anger, violence, and alcohol abuse emerge as major themes."(Dr. Devon E. Hinton, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School)
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