“PTSD was once thought to be something that was peculiar to Vietnam vets,” says Matt Warshauer, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University. ”We then figured out not surprisingly, that no, combat fatigue existed during World War II, shell shock existed during World War I, and Soldier’s Heart existed in the Civil War.”
There are many more books — now under lock and key — that Warshauer is eager to see. They’re about the size of a photo album and their covers, made of burlap and leather, have started to fall apart. Each contains the records of 325 or so patients and perhaps, of some Civil War veterans who walked across the lawns of the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane in the late 1800′s.
“They mean the motherlode,” Warshauer says. “Those are the books that we need.”
This past February, Warshauer thought he might soon have access to what he needed. Connecticut legislators drafted a bill, allowing the release of medical records 50 years after a patient’s death. But then, with backing from mental health advocates as well as the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, lawmakers inserted an amendment: all names would be redacted, or blacked out, making patient files of little use to historians.
Warshauer’s research is now at a standstill. He says one reason he’s not giving up is that he wants to help returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD understand they’re part of a long line of soldiers who have suffered.
“They’re the ones who told me you have no idea how important this work is, how important it is for us to be able to tell this story,” he adds.