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Rutherford's Dr. William E. Schlenger Who Spurred Policy Changes For Vietnam Veterans Dies

Bill co-authored “Trauma and the Vietnam War Generation” and subsequent articles from the study.
Bill co-authored “Trauma and the Vietnam War Generation” and subsequent articles from the study. Photo Credit: Abt Associates

William E. Schlenger, Ph.D. died peacefully on September 1, 2021, after succumbing to the long-term ravages of dementia. He was predeceased by his wife, Nancy Jernigan, MD, who died on May 11, 2021. 

Bill, born on December 29, 1945, was the son of Donald E Schlenger and Evelyn Woodward Schlenger, both deceased, of Palm Desert, CA. He is survived by his stepdaughter, Teri Minnis of Raleigh, and his older brother, Donald R. Schlenger and his wife, Jacqueline Masar Schlenger, of Cary, NC. Bill was the uncle of Nicole Desta Walker and Jessica Paige Nelson, husband Lance Nelson, and the great uncle of Jackson Bradley Walker, Emma Catherine Walker, (their father Brad Walker), Luke Foster Nelson and Benjamin Donald Nelson. Although Bill would always defer and suggest "above average" rather than "great," it was a role he filled with relish. The Walkers and Nelsons reside in Cary.

Bill graduated from Rutherford High School in Rutherford. He earned a BA in Psychology and minor in Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an MA in Environmental Psychology with a Clinical Psychology minor from East Carolina University and a PhD in Human Resource Development with Sociology and Statistics Minor from North Carolina State University.

He began his long career at RTI International as a Research Psychologist in 1977 and worked there until 2006, later assuming roles as Senior Research Psychologist, Director of the Mental and Behavioral Health Research Program and, finally, Principal Scientist. He also served as Principal Scientist at Abt in Durham, NC from 2006 until his retirement in 2014. 

His work included leading the landmark longitudinal study of post-traumatic stress disorder among Vietnam veterans. The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study received the Robert S. Laufer Ph.D. Memorial Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement in the Field of PTSD from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies in 1991 and the follow-on study in the 2000s received the Abt Inaugural Outstanding Scientific Impact Award in 2017. 

In addition to over 90 peer-reviewed publications on substance use, health and trauma, Bill co-authored “Trauma and the Vietnam War Generation” and subsequent articles from the study which helped spur policy changes supporting Vietnam Veterans. 

Bill was admired and respected among colleagues, and he brought a unique balance of rigor, determination and humor to his work. He was a dedicated mentor who helped shape the career paths for many who cherish the time spent learning from him.

Bill and Nancy had a lovely home backing on a golf course in north Raleigh and a beachfront condo in Indian Beach, NC. He became an avid deep-sea fisherman and loved his time on his boats, first “Doctors’ Orders,” then “Any Day Now.” It was well known among friends and family that fish feared Uncle Bill. 

They were serious gardeners, both flowers and vegetables, loving dog owners, and world travelers. Bill took up the guitar in college and became a good guitar player, formed a trio named “Loose Change” and performed at various venues including national meetings of the American Psychological Association and his niece Jessica’s wedding.

With longtime friends, Bill made yearly trips to Las Vegas on the opening weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, always rooting for his beloved Tarheels but enjoying the thrill of the point spreads as well.

A celebration of Bill’s life will be held at a later date. Until then, put on some John Prine, raise your glass and have a piece of chocolate in honor of a life lived well and full by Bill, The Rev, WES, UB and Billy.

If you desire, please make a donation in Bill’s name to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Obituary submitted by the family.

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