People who have served in the military are especially vulnerable to suffering from trauma and post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those who see combat often witness death and violent events, and feel ongoing fear in life-threatening situations. Soldiers who are wounded in combat often go into a state of shock. Explosions can rattle the brain inside the skull, causing traumatic brain injury. Another cause of PTSD can be military sexual trauma (MST), which may affect both men and women. MST is sexual harassment or sexual assault that occurs while you are in the military during peacetime, training or war.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that PTSD afflicts approximately:
- Almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans
- As many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans
- 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan
- 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans
According to the VA, among veterans who use Veteran’s Administration health care:
- 23 percent of women reported sexual assault when in the military
- 55 percent of women and men and 38 percent of men have experienced sexual harassment when in the military
- While military sexual trauma is more common in women, over half of all military sexual traumas are experienced by men.
Signs & Symptoms
Veterans suffering with PTSD have highly distressing memories that do not go away. They may feel ongoing fear or a sense of helplessness that impacts their emotional, mental and physical well-being over the long-term. PTSD can also be accompanied by depression, anxiety or substance abuse. It may impact your senses of sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing. If you or a loved one is experiencing PTSD, remember that help is available. Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTS) can help you manage your feelings and cope with PTSD.
Other common responses to traumatic events include:
- Stress-related physical symptoms such as nausea, chest pain and migraines
- Changes in relationships such as withdrawal, frequent conflicts and disengagement
- Intense or unpredictable feelings such as anxiety or grief
- Changes to thoughts and behavior patterns such as recurring memories of the event
- Heightened sensory sensitivity, such as to loud or sudden noises
Tips & Recommendations
- Use positive self-talk – In situations that trigger your stress response, remind yourself that you are in control. You can always walk away if you feel the need.
- Manage your stressors – If you feel anxious, take steps to reduce your anxiety. Allow yourself to feel the anxiety for one minute, and then decompress in whatever manner works for you. This exercise can build up your tolerance and help you de-sensitize, while helping you feel in control of the situation.
- Tell friends and family how to support you – PTSD affects everyone around you. Learn how to share your feelings about the trauma that led to your PTSD.
- Recognize when to get help - Many PTSD sufferers believe they should be able to “deal with it” alone. Unfortunately, that can lead to feelings of guilt or isolation. If your symptoms are not going away, find help.
- Look for a specialist in PTSD – It is important to find a therapist with training and experience in treating PTSD. Use short phone interviews to determine if a therapist will be a good fit for you. Ask about their availability, fees, if they accept your health insurance and how they approach treating PTSD.
HelpGuide: PTSD in Military Veterans
Veterans Crisis Line