The Veteran's Way: Addressing Post-Traumatic Stress and Veterans' Re-integration Through Landscape

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Virginia Tech


Post-traumatic stress, while not unique to war, results from normal human reactions to combat. Historically, civilizations provided communal rituals to support and treat returning warriors. We do not. When combat stress reactions adversely affect normal functioning, we label them Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, implying something wrong with the sufferer, when in reality what is wrong is war itself. Not all veterans develop diagnosable PTSD or seek treatment, but all deal with post-traumatic stress. Complex, with moral, societal, and spiritual dimensions, combat stress manifests physically and emotionally. Veteran support should address both.

Battlefields are places to contemplate the nature of war and martial sacrifice, and to experience emotional empathy with those who fought there. The ground itself is the link to this empathy. Battlefield landscapes can be designed to help veterans process their responses to combat, recognize them as normal human reactions inherent to the warrior experience, and participate in meaningful communalization experiences to aid in social reintegration.

These concepts were applied at Fredericksburg, Virginia, resulting in a 26-mile battlefield trail linking experientially important sites and ending at an outdoor amphitheater. The trail offers the stress-relieving benefits of exercise. It also allows veterans to examine their own experiences in the context of others' and prepares them for communal experiences at the culminating public space.

Pilgrimage on hallowed battlefield ground helps veterans tell themselves their own story. Telling that story to others allows the community to share the burden of peace and helps veterans complete their warrior's journey home.



veterans, post-traumatic stress, communalization, battlefield preservation, landscape architecture