My husband is an Iraq War veteran. He served two tours in Iraq during his 6 years of active duty in the United States Marine Corps, which comes out to about a third of his active duty time deployed to an active combat zone. It is not surprising that occasionally he exhibits symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (commonly referred to as PTSD). Fortunately, his symptoms are not severe enough to interfere with his daily life or interpersonal relationships, but there are many veterans who do have these types of difficulties after having lived through traumatic experiences during the war. The good news is that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides assistance to veterans who suffer from symptoms of PTSD and their families.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can occur after someone has been through a traumatic event. This is not limited to military personnel or veterans. Anyone who has gone through a life-threatening event can develop PTSD although veterans constitute a significant group of sufferers. Some examples of traumatic events that may lead to PTSD include:
- Combat or war exposure
- Child sexual or physical abuse
- Terrorist attacks
- Sexual or physical assault
- Serious accidents
- Natural disasters, such as fire, earthquake, hurricane, or tornado
It is natural to experience feelings of anxiety, fear, or depression after living through a traumatic event, and these may not necessarily indicate that you have PTSD. The likelihood of developing PTSD depends on a variety of factors, including how intense the trauma was, how close you were to the event, and how much help and support you received after the event.
The following are four types of symptoms of PTSD:
- Reliving the event: Including bad memories, nightmares, and re-experiencing strong emotions associated with the event. For veterans, this comes commonly in the form of nightmares and flashbacks, but can also be caused by a “trigger” factor, like a noise or seeing something that causes you to relive the event.
- Avoiding situations that remind you of the event: You may try to avoid situations or people that remind you of what occurred, or avoid even talking or thinking about it.
- Feeling numb: Finding it difficult to express feelings or to have positive feelings towards others. Also, you may not be interested in activities that you once enjoyed.
- Feeling keyed up or jittery: You may be always on alert, have a hard time sleeping or concentrating, and become startled when something surprises you. You may also become angry or enraged easily.
People with PTSD may feel hopelessness, shame, or despair. Employment or relationship problems are also common, and alcohol or drug use may also occur at the same time as PTSD. If you experience symptoms like these for a prolonged period of time (over several months) or they begin to interfere with your normal life or relationships, you may have PTSD.
There is help available through counseling and/or medication, and the Department of Veterans Affairs offers help for veterans living with PTSD.Every VA Medical Center has PTSD specialists who can diagnose and provide treatment for veterans. Plus, the VA provides nearly 200 specialized PTSD treatment programs, including Community Based Outpatient Clinics which offer mental health services. Additionally, every VA Medical Center in the country has a Women Veterans Program Manager, devoted specifically to aiding women veterans in receiving services. Contact your local VA medical center for assistance if you feel you may be suffering from PTSD.
You are eligible for VA care if you:
- Completed active military service in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard
- Were discharged under other than dishonorable conditions
- Members of the National Guard and Reserves who have completed a federal deployment to a combat zone
The National Center for PTSD offers a lot of good educational resources for learning more about PTSD and how veterans and their families can cope. Go to www.ptsd.va.gov for more information.
You can also visit http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/ for more info on mental health services that the VA offers and to find a VA facility near you, or call 1-877-222-VETS (1-877-222-8387).
Women veterans can go to http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/womenvets.asp or http://www.publichealth.va.gov/womenshealth/index.asp for information on specific VA programs for women veterans.
The bottom line is that those who serve in our armed forces are an important part of our national community. If you are having difficulty coping with war-related events, there is help available and we all hope you take advantage of it. Please confide in someone around you and seek help.
(Information for this blog post was found on www.ptsd.va.gov)