julie marsh
Photo by Aimee Giese
Post-traumatic stress disorder was first codified in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 1980. According to the Mayo Clinic website: "Post-traumatic stress disorder is especially common among those who have served in combat, and it's sometimes called 'shell shock,' 'battle fatigue,' or 'combat stress.'"

In response to "the suggestion of a former service member with post-traumatic stress disorder" who "feared a violent encounter with police officers," Georgia state senators Ron Ramsey and John Douglas co-sponsored a bill that would allow veterans to voluntarily include a PTSD designator on their driver's license indicating their diagnosis.

Senator Ramsey explains the bill's rationale to FoxNews.com: "For example, if a veteran suffering from PTSD was pulled over for a simple traffic violation, a designation on the license explaining the circumstances could inform an officer that the situation should be handled cautiously." Co-sponsor Senator Douglas added that "the bill might encourage safer encounters between people with PTSD and law enforcement officials."

Although the idea behind the bill was originated by a veteran, veterans' groups are scratching their heads over the possible benefits of such a designator. The Department of Veteran Affairs made no official comment, but a spokesperson from AMVETS said, "The legislation puts veterans at risk of discrimination ... driver's licenses are used for identification purposes that go far beyond encounters with police officers."

Likewise, the president of the Georgia Vietnam Veterans Alliance commented, “Why would I want to put out there on my license -- hey, I’m a nut job."

While I'm categorically opposed to calling anyone with a DSM-IV diagnosis a "nut job," I'm otherwise in agreement with those who question the usefulness of the designator.

Shouldn't all law enforcement encounters be handled cautiously, regardless of the circumstances or a citizen's medical diagnosis? Likewise, shouldn't all citizens be prepared to acquiesce to law enforcement requests? The veteran who suggested the designator told Senator Ramsey: "God forbid anybody put handcuffs on me. I’d go berserk." My take? Don't do anything that would prompt an officer to handcuff you.

The proposed PTSD designator has been compared to the existing notation on driver's licenses requiring corrective lenses. I think that's ridiculous. Wearing corrective lenses is a condition of safely operating a vehicle. PTSD has no bearing on whether or not someone can safely operate a vehicle.

While the stigma of mental disorders is slowly lessening, I don't doubt that such a designator could prejudice people against those whose licenses carry the PTSD notation. Meant to foster understanding, it could have the opposite effect entirely.

And while I'd like to believe that Senator Ramsey sees a genuine need for this bill -- one that he hasn't been able to articulate well enough yet -- my cynical side wonders if it wasn't just a publicity ploy to help further his fledgling political career.