Nathan Tillton

Thesis: Discipline and Disable: How the Department of Veterans Affairs Disables Veterans

George Washington once stated, “A country is judged by how it cares for its veterans;” now fast forward to 2020 (Parsons 2016). How would the United States be judged? Since 2006, 22 veterans have committed suicide a day. This lethal trend continues unabated today with no signs of slowing down. Many researchers have explored this trend, but they tend to focus on trauma and neglect the impact of systemic, ableist institutions, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

  The social model of disability has inspired me to ask and begin to answer in this thesis: how does the VA disable veterans? I draw on Mike Oliver’s social model of disability, in which the attitudes and structures of society, not their medical condition, disables a person (1983). I also apply Giorgio Agamben’s notion of bare life and Charles Brigg’s model of the unsanitary citizen to the experiences of veteran patients at the VA and their post-service experiences of feeling “lost” and being forced into the ableist, civilian workforce instead of taking time to heal. I utilize Alison Kafer’s model of crip time and explore how veterans employ and experience it, which often puts them at odds with the VA. My research examines how VA practices and policies contribute to disabling veterans and the phenomenon of veteran suicides.