PTSD in Veterans

Updated: February 11, 2021
In this Article

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, can affect anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop symptoms of PTSD. For those who do, the condition may be confusing and difficult to understand at first.

    A Department of Veterans Affairs page on the official site reports that as many as 60% of all people will experience a traumatic event. Therefore, a large number of the population are at risk for developing symptoms of PTSD.

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects people at all stages of life, ability, and age. Having PTSD symptoms does not make someone weak. It is a common response to a life-threatening or otherwise traumatic event.

    Seven Causes of PTSD

    Any life-threatening event may cause PTSD, whether the event happens to you or someone else. The Department of Veterans Affairs official site references many basic causes of PTSD, which can include but are definitely NOT limited to the following:

    1. Combat and other military experiences
    2. Sexual or physical assault
    3. Learning about the violent or accidental death or injury of a loved one
    4. Child sexual or physical abuse
    5. Serious accidents
    6. Natural disasters, fires, etc.
    7. Terrorist attacks

    Three Things You Should Know about PTSD and The General Population

    1. Eight percent of the population, or up to 8 out of every 100 people will have PTSD symptoms manifest at some point in life.
    2. Approximately eight million adults have PTSD during any given year.
    3. About 10%, or 10 of every 100 women will manifest symptoms of PTSD in their lifetime, a higher incidence than for men. Approximately 4 of every 100 men will have PTSD at some stage in life.

    Three Things You Should Know About PTSD among Veterans

    1. Military service puts veterans and currently serving military members at an elevated risk of experiencing or witnessing trauma.
    2. Combat is not the only cause of PTSD symptoms. Any trauma may result in PTSD including sexual assault, sexual harassment, and related issues. 23% of military women report sexual assault during their career in uniform.
    3. PTSD may manifest itself over time. You may not recognize the symptoms as being PTSD-related at first or without the help of someone trained to spot the warning signs.

    Four Symptoms of PTSD

    What follows is not to be interpreted as medical advice, a medical diagnosis, etc. It is a list of symptoms as described in the Department of Veterans Affairs publication Understanding PTSD and PTSD Treatment.

    PTSD symptoms may include, but are not limited to the following:

    1. Reliving the trauma or having intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event.
    2. Avoiding places, events, or experiences that remind you of the trauma.
    3. Hypervigilance, feeling unable to relax, always “keyed up” or on edge, irritability with no specific or rational cause, etc.
    4. Nightmares, sleep disturbances, inability to sleep, other sleep-related problems.

    This list of symptoms is not all-inclusive. Some sufferers of PTSD may experience all, some, or none of the symptoms mentioned here.

    PTSD Symptoms: Five PTSD Assessment Questions to Ask Yourself

    According to the Department of Veterans Affairs official site, those who answer “yes” to three or more of the following questions should definitely seek help for PTSD symptoms or related problems:

    1. Have you experienced nightmares about a traumatic event or thought about the event(s) when you didn’t want to?
    2. Have you tried to push thoughts of the trauma out of your mind or try not to think about the event(s)? Do you go out of your way to avoid situations that reminded you of the trauma?
    3. Do you notice yourself being constantly on guard, watchful, or easily startled?
    4. Do you feel numb, detached, or disinterested from people, activities, or surroundings?
    5. Have you ever experienced guilt or blame yourself or other people for the traumatic event or the problems that may have resulted from it?

    Barriers to Getting Help for PTSD

    Those who suffer from any mental illness often feel stigmatized or have a sense of shame about their condition in spite of such issues being beyond the control of people to prevent. Creating awareness is the first step towards help. That’s why PTSD Awareness Day is on June 27th every year. There are several barriers to getting care for PTSD including:

    1. Believing it is possible to get better on your own or simply wait out the symptoms.
    2. An inability to afford proper care, medication, or treatment.
    3. Difficulty getting to a treatment facility due to lack of transportation or scheduling issues.
    4. Misunderstanding the symptoms or the treatment of PTSD.
    5. Fear that the act of seeking help may negatively affect a military career or civilian job.

    Getting Treatment for PTSD

    Military medicine, VA care, programs, and private treatment options are all potential sources of PTSD diagnosis and care. For those currently serving, it’s best to be evaluated as soon as possible to begin exploring treatment options with an on-base provider or an in-network facility.

    Those who are diagnosed with PTSD by military doctors or civilian professionals should have medical records documenting this treatment. They will have an easier time filing a VA disability compensation claim for PTSD when it’s time to retire or separate from military service.

    It is possible to be evaluated for PTSD as part of retiring or separating. Anyone experiencing the symptoms of PTSD should get evaluated immediately rather than waiting out an enlistment to get screened as part of out-processing.

    Treatment Options for PTSD

    There are many treatment options for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder including, but not limited to the following approaches:

    Talk Therapy can include three different types of counseling:

    1. Cognitive Processing Therapy which helps the patient to “change upsetting thoughts and feelings you have had since your trauma” according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
    2. Prolonged Exposure is when the patient is guided by a professional to approach trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations that the PTSD sufferer may have been avoiding since the traumatic event.
    3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing when the patient is directed to think about the trauma or process it while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound.

    PTSD medications are also an option. Some of these medicines are used to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety. Most of such medication is available by prescription only. The medication part of your PTSD treatment will likely be recommended to accompany some form of counseling or talk therapy.

    PTSD medications may include, but are not limited to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

    According to the VA official site, “These medicines affect the level of naturally occurring chemicals in the brain called serotonin and/or norepinephrine. The chemicals play a role in brain cell communication and affect how you feel. Only certain SSRIs and SNRIs are effective for PTSD symptoms.”

    The VA mentions four medications that are thought to be effective for PTSD:

    1. Sertraline (Zoloft)
    2. Paroxetine (Paxil)
    3. Fluoxetine (Prozac)
    4. Venlafaxine (Effexor)

    Of these four, the last medication (Effexor) is an SNRI. All the other medications are SSRIs.

    Five Sources of Help for PTSD

    The advice of the Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Health Library includes a strong recommendation to talk to one of the five resources listed below if you experience any symptoms of PTSD:

    • Your healthcare provider
    • A mental healthcare provider (therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, etc.)
    • A professional at the nearest VA facility or Vet Center
    • A close friend or family member
    • A clergy member

    Not all of these resources will put you in touch with a mental health professional, but often the hardest thing about getting initial treatment for PTSD is admitting there is a problem and talking to someone about it.

    When You Can’t Decide What Treatment Option Is Best for Your PTSD

    The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a resource called a Decision Aid that helps people experiencing PTSD identify different options. They help choose the treatment that seems best based on symptoms and how the condition affects everyday life.

    The Department of Veterans Affairs has more information on help for PTSD on its’ official site including help finding a therapist.

    Those experiencing suicidal feelings or self-destructive urges should get help immediately. The Suicide Crisis Hotline (1-800-273-8255) has a specific resource for veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs offers a Veterans’ Crisis Hotline confidential chat resource.

    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News

    Written by Team