Date of Conferral



Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)


Public Health


Michael Schwab


Military stigma is a heavy burden of social stigma internalized by veterans who are diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during post-deployment psychological screening. PTSD is classified as a mental disorder associated with widespread reluctance to seek medical assistance. Among military veterans who suffer from combat-related posttraumatic stress (PTS), military stigma is considered a widespread problem. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore veterans' perceptions of various aspects of military stigma, including post-deployment psychological screening, the diagnosis of PTSD, and factors associated with reluctance to seek medical assistance for PTS. In-depth interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of 10 veterans of 2 recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. A modified form of labeling theory was applied to address the role of cultural stereotypes in stigma (societal and self-internalized), and the discriminatory factors associated with them. Multiple themes emerged, including a commonly held view that post-deployment health screenings are superficial, inconsistent, and ineffective procedures in which veterans feel the need to lie about their experience for fear of being stigmatized with a mental disorder. The findings confirm that the stigma associated with a diagnosis of PTSD perpetuates veterans' reluctance to seek help for PTS, which results in multiple personal and professional problems. Remedies recommended by these veterans included improved post-deployment medical screening procedures, reclassification of PTSD as a war injury instead of a mental disorder, and PTS-related stigma awareness training.