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Smith RT, True JG. Warring identities: identity conflict and the mental distress of American Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Society and mental health. 2014 Jan 9; 4(2):147-161.
Drawing from 26 life story interviews of recent American veterans, this paper analyzes the identity struggle faced by soldiers returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and reentering the civilian world. Instead of examining veterans' problems as a consequence of post-combat mental illnesses such as PTSD and major depression, we analyze the contrast between the participants' identities as soldiers and their identities as civilians. We find that the postwar transition causes adverse mental health effects that stem from contrasts between the military's demands for deindividuation, obedience, chain-of-command, and dissociation and the civilian identity expectations of autonomy, self-advocacy, and being relational. Veterans' reintegration to civilian society is further hindered by a culture that is perceived (by veterans) as having decreased understanding of the soldier/veteran experience itself. These identity conflicts-what we term warring identities-have an important yet understudied effect on veterans' combat-related mental health problems.