PTSD Resources for Veterans and FamiliesUpdated: July 20, 2022
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2004 found that when the Army did its first mental health study of troops who served in Iraq, it discovered that one in eight returning soldiers had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Of those, only 23-40% sought help. A later report from the Department of Veterans Affairs says that PTSD cases among service members have tripled in the last decade.
The National Institutes of Health has identified the growing number of PTSD cases in America as “an epidemic.” Another significant concern is the caregiver burnout, fatigue and stress associated with helping a loved one manage their condition. One of the worst things a person with PTSD can do is not seek help, but many service members and their families aren’t sure where to begin looking for help.
For Those Who Need Immediate Help
Anyone with post-traumatic stress disorder who is struggling with feelings of self-harm or suicide should seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), is staffed 24/7 to help those who need help in a crisis. Live online chat is also available via the official site.
Military Families Have Resources on Base
One of the closest sources of initial help for a military loved one suffering from the symptoms of PTSD is a base counselor, mental health clinic or military hospital that provides counseling and mental health services.
Not all military bases have full-service hospitals or inpatient facilities. However, there is usually some form of mental health treatment available, including counseling services, therapists and, in some cases, a psychiatrist, or the ability to be referred to one from the primary care provider.
Ideally, the service member should be most concerned with getting help. Some military members are reluctant to use the “official” treatment channels offered on base out of fear of stigma, hurting their career, etc. When there are concerns about getting help through the military medical system, it may be a good idea to explore treatment options covered by Tricare in the local area rather than using a military clinic.
Department of Veterans Affairs Resources
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ official PTSD site has several sections with advice, resources and explanations of PTSD, symptoms and treatment. This site is not just for those experiencing PTSD and their loved ones, it’s also a resource for medical professionals and mental health care providers. You can explore a wide range of materials, videos, advice and definitions at PTSD.va.gov. The VA site offers articles and information for everyone involved in the process, from loved ones to caregivers.
Non-Military PTSD Resources
There are several non-military agencies dedicated to helping families and patients dealing with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. When you do a Google search for online resources related to these organizations, be sure to use combinations of search phrases including “veteran,” “PTSD” and “local chapter” or the name of your city or state.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
The National Alliance on Mental Health does not focus on one specific type of condition but does emphasize PTSD. NAMI has state chapters and local affiliates – the affiliates alonenumber well over 900. They offer local support groups, events and classes to patients and family members alike.
The official site of the publication Psychology Today features a search tool to help people find PTSD group therapy and support in their local area.
Veteran Service Organizations (VSO)
Veteran service organizations can help you find a local support group, file a claim with the VA related to your PTSD experience or learn more about your options to make VA claims or get VA treatment. You can find a local chapter of the DAV, Veterans of Foreign Wars or other veteran-affiliated agencies near you.
Private Veteran-Focused Support Groups
There are several veteran-focused and veteran-run support groups for PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other conditions. The Wounded Warrior Project is a good example, as is This Able Veteran, a private, non-profit organization that provides trained service dogs to veterans who have PTSD.
Service Animal Agencies
There are many online resources for those who may need a service animal or comfort animal to help better manage symptoms of PTSD. The agency Service Dogs for America which features a PTSD section on its official site, is an example of a national agency. But many service animal organizations operate on the local level instead, such as the Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services agency located in Columbia, South Carolina. Search for national and local service animal resources, since you may be required to do in-home interviews, training, etc., to find an appropriate service animal.
State-Run Departments of Veterans Affairs
Your state’s Department of Veterans Affairs or a similar state agency will have lists of local resources that can help veterans and families. Some of the resources are state-provided; others may be partnerships between state agencies and local chapters of a VSO. You may find that some states have more extensive resources and help available for vets and families; others may refer patients to the VA system if resources are not as plentiful.
University Mental Health Studies, Focus Groups and Clinical Trials
Those living in an area served by a research university, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago, can explore options offered by the university’s medical department. You may find a range of options, including clinical trials and treatments in the research phase.
Not everyone will be interested in volunteering for research, focus groups or experimental treatment options. If you are, check out your nearest medical department at a college, university or private campus.
PTSD Apps for Veterans and Families
The Department of Veterans Affairs official site has a page of mobile apps designed to help with PTSD (linked to the main PTSD resources page). They include:
- PTSD Coach – This app helps users learn about coping with the symptoms related to PTSD that commonly occur following trauma.
- PTSD Family Coach – PTSD Family Coach is designed to support family members of those living with post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Mindfulness Coach – This app helps users manage PTSD symptoms by “grounding yourself in the present moment.”
- VetChange – This app helps those worried about alcohol use as it relates to PTSD.
- Anger and Irritability Management Skills – This mobile app helps you cope with anger problems. Anyone who needs to learn more about anger and how to manage angry reactions can use it.
PTSD Caregiver Help
The Department of Veterans Affairs has special programs and support for veterans’ caregivers and family members who have PTSD and other medical issues.
The Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA)
Current spouses, surviving spouses and children of veterans with disabilities who do not qualify for Tricare may be eligible for health insurance through CHAMPVA, a cost-sharing program. In the context of our discussion about PTSD, CHAMPVA helps to cover mental health services and other medical services. Those in need of counseling as a result of caring for a loved one will find this assistance valuable.
The Program of Comprehensive Assistance to Family Caregivers of Post-9/11 Veterans
Family members taking care of veterans with VA-rated disabilities who were hurt in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, may qualify for benefits under the VA Program of Comprehensive Assistance to Family Caregivers. Qualifying criteria include the following:
- The veteran has a severe injury, which may include traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma or other mental disorders caused or aggravated by active-duty military service on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and
- Requires personal care services because they can’t perform one or more activities of daily living and
- Requires supervision or protection based on symptoms of lasting neurological damage or injury.
These are just two of the programs available to caregivers via the VA. Contact the VA directly to learn what other options may be open to you.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Help en Espanol
The Department of Veterans Affairs also offers a page for those who need to learn more about PTSD using Spanish-language resources.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News