I am a combat veteran, but I was not diagnosed with PTSD. When I was in the military, there were Soldiers with PTSD who had never served in a combat zone. There were also Soldiers who served in a combat zone but never saw combat. These Soldiers were sometimes diagnosed with PTSD from their tour.

Is PTSD Overdiagnosed for US Military Soldiers? Could Soldiers really be affected by anxiety and other life factors instead?

Claim: http://www.wired.com/2012/03/the-ptsd-trap/

  • What do you mean by "prevalent"? Do you mean if there are cases of fraud? Otherwise I wouldn't be surprised to find that the PTSD occurrence in war veterans is higher than average, so I'm not quite sure what we could consider "that" prevalent.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 11:18
  • @Sklivvz: Not necessarily fraud (there could be a very small percentage), but rather misdiagnosis - which makes it appear more prevalent Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 11:20
  • Ok, so is the question you are trying to ask "are soldiers overdiagnosed with PTSD?"
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 11:22
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    A. If this is narrowed down to the US military, it should state it in the body of the question, not just the tags. B. I think this question lucks a noteable claim, all we have is the observation of a single not professional supposed observation
    – SIMEL
    Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 13:09
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    Your question seems to imply that it is only possible to have PTSD is you have seen combat, which is not the case. Commented May 21, 2015 at 16:26

2 Answers 2



"Overdiagnosing" of PTSD can be occur in a few different ways. For example, we (soldiers) get briefings all the time about the distinction between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

They share several similar symptoms, however they differ greatly in their method of sustainment and long-term effects. TBI is more physiological damage, sustained commonly from impacts and blasts, which are common in combat operations with the Infantry and Special Operations communities. PTSD, on the other hand is more psychological damage.

Because both can likely be incurred from the same incident, it makes it difficult to distinguish between the two. In recent wars, there was potential for TBI to be misdiagnosed as PTSD.

Using questionnaires, 59% [of respondents with TBI] fulfilled criteria for PTSD on the Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale and 44% on the Impact of Events Scale, whereas using the structured interview (Clinician Administered PTSD Scale) only 3% were ‘cases’. This discrepancy may arise from confusions between effects of PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

The US military, in response, conducts frequent assessments before and after combat tours to track any developments in the psychological or physiological damage. However, due to inadequate screening, it is difficult to tell the exact number of misdiagnosed cases.

Statistics compiled by the VA show that more than 83,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have sought care for psychological disorders. The department does not track the number of TBI cases [...] The Defense Department also does not have figures on the number of brain injuries, but Pentagon officials estimated that they have found about 2,500 potential cases so far.

"The number of people who have suffered from mild traumatic brain injury could be in the thousands, but we just won't know about it unless we screen everybody who comes back [...] Maybe it's politics, maybe it's negligence, maybe it's incompetence," Rieckhoff said. "I don't know. I just know that it's taking too long to take things like brain injury seriously."

There are also been issues with malingering which also might account for overdiagnosing. Getting diagnosed with PTSD before getting discharged from the military is a sure way to get free medical disability. I have witnessed several first-hand accounts of this, but those aren't acceptable sources for this website. However, these concerns aren't isolated:

As disability awards for PTSD have grown nearly fivefold over the past 13 years, so have concerns that many veterans might be exaggerating or lying to win benefits. Moering, a former Marine, estimates that roughly half of the veterans he evaluates for the disorder exaggerate or fabricate symptoms. [...] Frueh and other critics of the disability system have sparred in medical journals with senior VA mental-health officials, who argue that the extent of malingering is impossible to know without more research.

  • 1
    While your answer is interesting and takes steps towards answering the question it doesn't actually answer it, while you give evidence of the occurrence of misdiagnosis you don't give an overall picture of the over-diagnosis in US military. You also, at the beginning of the answer, make the claim 'In short, an answer to your question is yes.' but it's unsupported. Commented May 21, 2015 at 9:11
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    @Noodlemanny: Please see some edits I have made.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 9:18
  • Right. Good old @Oddthinking Commented May 21, 2015 at 9:28
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    Although fleshed out I actually still feel the answer isn't sufficient. It points out misdiagnosis is possible but gives no indication of it's extent. The last quote even states it's "impossible to know without more research", this is in direct conflict with the opening statement. Commented May 21, 2015 at 9:47
  • @Noodlemanny, What is this answer lacking? OP asked if soldiers are overdiagnosed with PTSD. The links I provided about TBI being misdiagnosed as PTSD already proves the US military's overdiagnosis of PTSD. If something about that link doesn't support that claim, then I can find more corroborating evidence, because I know this to be a fact, and I want to try to give OP a sufficient answer.
    – user26274
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 12:11
Could Soldiers really be affected by anxiety and other life factors instead?

Yes. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/23/us/drone-pilots-found-to-get-stress-disorders-much-as-those-in-combat-do.html?_r=0 or as described "Oliver Twist"

Then just being in a military complex in a combat zone makes you a target, when you're on patrol or even in the base itself.

Are they overdiagnosed? A simple idea would be to compare the ratio of PTSD diagnosed soliders in different wars. That has various problems mostly: 1) Name-changing and a changes in which symptoms were considered related. E.g. during WWI it was known as shell-shock. 2) Much more through psychological evaluation.

  • 2
    Welcome to Skeptics!. This isn't really an answer. You haven't shown that people are been falsely diagnosed. You describe one possible measure you could make, but you don't actually show anyone has made it.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 19:53

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