April 13, 2012

Expert on veterans’ psychological trauma to speak

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The ancient Greek epic poem, “The Odyssey,” is, at its core, the story of a man trying to return home after his long involvement in a war.

Even though the epic is almost 3,000 years old (it was written during the eighth century B.C.) the universal truths and lessons and emotions in it speak across the centuries to soldiers today who also are trying to return home after a war.

Or so says MacArthur Fellow Jonathan Shay, author of “Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming,” and “Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Training and the Undoing of Character.”

Shay visits Southern Illinois University Carbondale to discuss his successful use of ancient Greek classic texts in his treatment of combat veterans with severe psychological injuries.  His lecture begins at 7 p.m. on April 18 in Student Center Ballroom D.  The event is free.

Media Advisory

Jonathan Shay will be available for interviews with members of the media from 2-3 p.m. on April 17, in the Sangamon Room in the Student Center.

For 20 years, Shay was a staff psychiatrist at the Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Boston.  He became an early expert in treating the psychological injuries combat can cause, and he has been a strong advocate for soldiers suffering from it.  He promotes a clinical definition of Moral Injury, a concept he first addressed in “Achilles in Vietnam.”  His goal, besides treating psychological injury, is to find ways to prevent it.  His efforts earned him a MacArthur Genius Award in 2007.

The College of Liberal Arts Humanities Forum was central to bringing Shay to campus.  Andrew Youpa, associate professor of philosophy and a Humanities Forum director, said the Forum wanted to bring speakers to campus to address current issues about which people have strong feelings, and which impact the SIU Carbondale campus.  He noted the University’s commitment to serving veterans, adding that in his own classroom he sees that veterans, particularly combat veterans, bring an entirely different set of experiences to the student milieu than traditional students.

“As a community, what can and should we be doing, what do we need to do, to address some of the challenges some of these veterans face?” he said.  “It seems we should be preparing to welcome our veterans back, not just with signs and parades, but after that.  It is our moral obligation to learn what they need.”

Shay addresses the psychological factors facing returning combat veterans.  Earlier this semester, The Humanities Forum (and other campus departments and organizations) brought Nancy Sherman to campus to discuss philosophical and ethical aspects of combat and how it affects those returning from war. 

Youpa said the Forum’s goal is to create a space for a discussion of morals and values.

“In a year of being on this campus, you can hear a lot of talk about values.  Well, this is what we do in the humanities,” he said.  “We do believe that through knowledge we can make the world a better place.”

Additional sponsors for Shay’s visit include: College of Liberal Arts’ Dean’s Office, Department of English, Department of Philosophy, Graduate and Professional Student Council, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, SIU Carbondale Philosophy Club, SIU Carbondale Veterans Center, Undergraduate Student Government, University Honors Program, and Eta Sigma Phi Classics Company, Illinois General Assembly, Illinois Humanities Council, and the Carbondale Public Library.  The College of Liberal Arts Humanities Forum received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.