Home » PTSD » Federal Laws Fail to Recognize Civilian PTSD

Federal Laws Fail to Recognize Civilian PTSD

Researchers believe federal legislation pertaining to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has an inordinate focus on the needs of military personnel and veterans.

Drexel University researchers believe the failure of legislation to recognize PTSD in the civilian population is an issue because PTSD is actually more prevalent in the general population.

The study, authored by Jonathan Purtle, Dr.P.H., and published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, is the first to examine how public policy has been used to address psychological trauma and PTSD in the U.S.

Researchers believe an analysis of the legislation provides insight on how lawmakers think about psychological trauma and PTSD.

Purtle found that in federal legislation introduced explicitly to address PTSD, more than 90 percent of the language discussing PTSD is intended to address consequences of combat exposure. Purtle believes this emphasis does not line up with the frequency of PTSD in the U.S. population.

“Although trauma and PTSD are serious issues affecting military populations, the raw number of people affected by PTSD includes substantially more civilians simply because the civilian population is so much larger,” said Purtle.

As an example, Purtle pointed to the specific language of the bill that created National PTSD Awareness Day. The text of that resolution describes PTSD as a “wound of war” that affects people in the military and does not acknowledge that PTSD exists among civilians.

Many types of traumatic events can cause PTSD, including violent injury, car accidents, surviving life-threatening diseases, sexual assault, and natural disasters, as well as combat exposure.

One-time and chronic exposure to traumatic events can also cause traumatic stress, involving some symptoms common in PTSD, without matching the full pattern of diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

Purtle also discovered that, just as lawmakers appeared to respond to PTSD as primarily a military concern, they applied the concept of traumatic stress (other than PTSD) as a concern affecting civilians.

About 75 percent of the bill sections about traumatic stress that did not mention PTSD were targeted to civilians’ needs. For example, a number of bills were introduced to address the mental health needs of U.S. civilians after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but these bills did explicitly mention PTSD.

“It’s almost as if lawmakers didn’t want to suggest that PTSD was also a disorder among civilians,” Purtle said.

“This gives a sense of how elected officials at the federal level might think about the dimensions of this problem, and shows that it doesn’t match up with what’s known about who gets PTSD.”

Although most civilian-targeted bills Purtle examined did not explicitly mention PTSD, their policies addressing trauma among civilians may still help individuals experiencing PTSD.

Civilians with PTSD, as well as military members and veterans, may also benefit from policies addressing PTSD and trauma that were established through state and local legislation or via non-legislative administrative policies.

Some believe the emphasis on military personnel in legislation addressing PTSD reflects the history of the disorder, which first became known through cases in military members and veterans following combat experiences.

Furthermore, the federal government’s role in providing medical care for veterans could also contribute to the legislation’s heightened emphasis on military PTSD in contrast to civilian PTSD.

Source: Drexel University

Federal Laws Fail to Recognize Civilian PTSD

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Federal Laws Fail to Recognize Civilian PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 12 Nov 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.