Described in Homer’s Iliad and called by a succession of names ever since—from mere “exhaustion” to “shell shock” and “battle fatigue”—the distinctive condition that often afflicts soldiers after stressful wartime experiences, now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), still carries a strong social stigma. And scientists still have much to learn about its psychological and physiological underpinnings.
Though the investment firm headed by Yale College alumnus Glenn H. Greenberg, M.A., M.B.A., is known as Brave Warrior Advisors, Greenberg knew little about PTSD until he began hearing that increasing numbers of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had returned home with deep psychological scars left by those conflicts. For Greenberg’s wife, Linda Vester, who had worked for years as a war-zone correspondent for NBC News, the cluster of symptoms that make up PTSD were all too familiar.
“She also came back with stress disorder,” Greenberg says, “and she told me how debilitating it was, such that when there was a thunderstorm she’d dive under the dining room table—literally, with her family there.”
The School of Medicine, in partnership with the VA Connecticut Healthcare System (VACHS), has been in the vanguard of PTSD research and treatment for decades. When Greenberg, a member of the Class of 1968, contacted his alma mater to find out about Yale research on PTSD, he “was not appreciative of the long history of really original work,” he says, and he soon decided to help continue that work with a major gift that establishes the Greenberg Professorship in Psychiatry, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Resilience.
In the mid-1960s, after completing a residency in psychiatry at Yale, Arthur S. Blank Jr., M.D., saw the Vietnam War first hand, working in hospitals in Long Binh and Saigon. Soon after the war ended, Blank reviewed the charts of 60 veterans and concluded that many had been misdiagnosed with maladies ranging from alcoholism to schizophrenia. In 1973, Blank, now a psychiatrist in Bethesda, Md., invited those men to a therapy group at the veterans hospital in West Haven, Conn. (now the VACHS), which helped to lay the groundwork for PTSD’s eventual acceptance as an official psychiatric diagnosis in 1980. Soon after, Yale recruited Walter Reed Army Medical Center endocrinologist John W. Mason, M.D., who led the first studies of disturbances in stress-related hormones in soldiers with PTSD. In 1989, Yale became home to the Clinical Neurosciences Division and the Health Services Division of the VA National Center for PTSD, the world’s first major interdisciplinary research initiative focusing on the disorder. Since then, Yale investigators at the VA have remained at the center of PTSD research and have helped improve the care of returning veterans nationally.
Son of National Baseball Hall of Fame member Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Greenberg, the legendary first-baseman and power hitter for the Detroit Tigers during the 1930s and 40s, Glenn Greenberg has many Yale College ties. His stepfather, the late Joe Lebworth, was a member of the Class of 1948. His son Greg is a member of the Class of 2004, and younger son Duncan graduated in 2008. Greenberg’s brother, Steve, is a member of the Class of 1970.
Greenberg hopes his gift makes a difference in the understanding of PTSD, and he says that our soldiers deserve no less. “If you come home and you’re suffering from PTSD—you’re anxious, you’re depressed, you have a hair-trigger temper, you can’t sleep at night—you’re not very likely to be a good father, spouse, or employee. So it’s going to affect the rest of your life,” he says. “And all because you accepted very low pay to go into a war zone.”