Many veterans will tell you about the bond of brotherhood between those they served with, about how close men and women become during times of danger. However, many other veterans tell a different story-a story of shame, anger, and humiliation. Hazing and bullying are common in all branches of the military, and these events can be extremely traumatic for the victim.
When many people think of PTSD, they think of very traumatic experiences related to exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation. In fact, both the VA and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the “bible” of mental illness) specifically state this in their diagnostic criteria. PTSD is the probably the only disorder in the DSM that specifically limits the root cause of the disorder so specifically. However, actual research suggests that this limitation is not very absolute.
In the 1980’s, a doctor named Heinz Leymann decided to research this topic. He labelled the behavior of workplace bullies as “mobbing”- the behavior wild animals display when grouping together to attack a single target. Victims of bullying will certainly relate to this metaphor.
Leymann found that victims of workplace bullying had several health outcomes that were different than those who had not been victims of workplace bullying. Twenty percent of victims committed suicide or developed severe health problems. In his home country of Sweden, he posited that one out of every six suicides in Sweden could be traced back to workplace bullying!
Studies by the The Workplace Bullying & Trauma Institute have found that 76% of victims of workplace bullying experience severe anxiety, 47% experienced PTSD symptoms, 39% experienced clinical depression, and 32% had regular panic attacks.
The VA may deny your claim for PTSD as the result of bullying or hazing while in service, and it seems like you have two options:
- Demonstrate that you were in fear for your life, in fear of serious injury, or in fear of sexual assault.
- Although you may have PTSD, base your claim on your anxiety and depressive symptoms, as anxiety and depression do not have such restrictive criteria.
The trauma of workplace bullying is not a single, quick incident like an IED or a car accident. This trauma is experienced for weeks, months, even years, and it builds and builds until the victim breaks. The effects can last for years, possibly even for the rest of the victim’s life. This can have serious repercussions on future employment, and even social relationships.