Date of Award

2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Sociology

First Advisor

Charles L. Bosk

Abstract

The study of military veterans has been largely overlooked by the field of sociology, despite the magnitude of social relevance and sociological insight this population has to offer. This dissertation is comprised of three substantive chapters relating to veterans' health and care. The first chapter grapples with theoretical issues including the role of media in the emergence of social problems, and the impact of scandals on their trajectories. Through content analysis of New York Times articles (2000-2010), I studied veterans' healthcare, the roles of scandal and social externalities, in shifts in volume and content of coverage. Analyses revealed that changes in reporting began before the outbreak of scandal, but that scandal acted as an amplifier, increasing overall coverage. Furthermore, scandals can travel across domains and heighten public attention to problems beyond their initial target. The second and third chapters stem from a year of ethnographic fieldwork in a social services program for veterans. The vast majority of participants were low-income and/or disabled, and their lives were intimately tied to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The second chapter investigates the social process of Vietnam War veterans coming to terms with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Through analysis of fieldnotes and formal interviews, I built upon Erving Goffman's moral career framework, and developed a model explicating various pathways on a journey beginning before diagnosis, through treatment, and beyond. The chapter contributes to the medicalization literature by exploring the impact of medicalization on people who lived for extended periods before their conditions were legitimated by the medical profession. The final chapter examines problems bureaucratic human services agencies face in handling elusive conditions. Through research based primarily on government reports, Congressional testimony, and existing published reports, I demonstrated that Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a complex condition requiring subjective judgments from diagnosis through the determination of magnitude of disability, making it a particularly problematic condition for organizations reliant upon rationality, measurement, rules, and standards. Overall, this dissertation reflects a fact glaringly evident in my fieldwork - a complex relationship exists between the veteran as individual and the broader social structure.

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Sociology Commons

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