Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Elizabeth Bird, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Daniel Lende, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rebecca Zarger, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jason Lind, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kevin Kip, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Martin Steele, Lieutenant General (Retired) USMC


disease, exposure, military


As combat veterans returned from supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, questions over the safety of vaccinations as well as exposure to burn pit smoke and toxic metals lying dormant in the sand emerged. For many, returning home was marred by unexplained symptoms followed by diagnoses of autoimmune diseases and/or cancer. This research examines how these veterans negotiate this transition from healthy to sick struggling with the many forces that interact with this transition. I focused on the lived experience of their illness as it is non-verbally expressed through embodiment, verbally expressed through illness narratives, and negotiated to avoid stigma.

This research is situated in and through the body. It is based on assumptions, rooted in context, founded on theory, and framed by visual methodology. I utilized photo elicitation and photo voice in concert with open-ended interviews of 10 Operation Iraqi and/or Enduring Freedom veterans diagnosed with autoimmune diseases and/or cancer. I then created a digital story to give voice to these often overlooked veterans in hopes of educating not only clinicians but also a broader audience. It is also a call to other anthropologists to fill this most important qualitative research gap.