The New York Times printed an opinion article by Dillon Carroll May 21, 2014, with a historic illustration of what combat did to a veteran of the Civil War, especially in regard to the Evidence of PTSD & TBI. According to the Times article, Edson Bemis, a union soldier, was nearly killed by confederates in February of 1865 when a bullet entered his skull, leaving him near death for several days. Dr. Albert VanDevour performed surgery to remove the bullet from Edson’s skull. Bemis subsequently improved.
However, the article illustrates Edson was afflicted in several ways. His health was never very good. He experienced vertigo, problems with his head and frequently was unable to work. He was forgetful, had wild mood swings and was quickly irritated. The article indicates he would have no memory of where he had been or what he had done for several hours periodically. He had delusions of dogs being in the room and fits of laughing and crying without apparent cause. It is likely given the injury and subsequent symptoms, Edson suffered from traumatic brain injury (TBI).
According to the article, Edson’s wife helped him get dressed, helped him eat and use the restroom. His wife ultimately took him the Westboro Insane Hospital in Westboro, Mass., where he eventually died in 1900. Edson’s story was not an uncommon one for Civil War veterans. According to the the Times article, more and more research indicates Civil War veterans struggled with symptoms of emotional, psychological and neurological trauma after the war consistent with what we refer to as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) today. Alcoholism, unemployment and suicide were also not uncommon.
The article suggests these veteran’s suffered in silence because they feared the stigma attached to mental illness. It was not until after Vietnam that PTSD was accepted as a known disability.
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