“I just couldn’t sleep because every time I closed my eyes I was back in that truck.”
“How was I gonna be able to be a dad to my kids if I was so angry all the time?”
“I felt like the part of him that was him was gone, and I have no idea how to get him back.”
Each June we observe PTSD Awareness Month to draw attention to the collection of symptoms that can affect the lives of service members and their families well after their military service ends. PTSD is a treatable condition, and there are resources available to start your journey toward wholeness.
What is PTSD?
Posttraumatic stress is a real, treatable mental health issue that affects many in the veteran community. Service members in every branch may experience traumatic, often violent, events during their military careers. Whether in the form of combat, assault, disaster or accident, many survivors have some stress reactions after a trauma. These experiences can be difficult to process, and can result in a veteran re-living the event, avoiding reminders of the event, feeling anxious or experiencing negative changes in beliefs and feelings. Veterans who suffer from posttraumatic stress report feeling jumpy, experiencing a sense of constant danger or looming threat, having nightmares of traumatic events and feeling emotionally numb. Some sufferers self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to relieve these symptoms, which can lead to addiction and other health problems, and make it difficult to get or keep employment.
In the midst of the intensity of posttraumatic stress, it may be difficult to take action. There can be a tendency for survivors to blame themselves for not being able to move on. Self-doubt and self-medication can stall a survivor’s ability to address the root problem, but there are treatments that can help.
How is PTSD treated?
No single treatment will work for every person. However, many therapies have proven particularly effective with veterans. Medications such as antidepressants have been shown to be beneficial. Various psychotherapies have also proven to be effective, including several approaches to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, or CBT.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external forces such as people, situations or events. CBT is a talking therapy that can help patients manage fears, anxiety, depression and anger problems by coaching them to recognize their emotions—as they’re feeling them—and choose a behavior that redirects their response.
The benefit of this thought model is that survivors can change the way they think, in order to feel or behave differently; even if the situation does not change.
Veterans living with PTSD aren’t the only people impacted by the struggle; it can ripple through families as well. Living with someone who has nightmares, who is emotionally withdrawn, irritable, easily upset or even violent can become impossible. Relationships can become frayed and unravel due to the symptoms of untreated PTSD. Caregivers need, and deserve, care themselves.
What Resources Are Available?
The Veterans Administration has developed an on-line decision aid to help veterans and their families learn about effective PTSD treatment options, available at www.ptsd.va.gov. There are many places within VA that provide PTSD treatment and mental health services including VA medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics and Vet Centers. Located within the community, Vet Centers provide information, assessment and counseling to any veteran who served in a war zone, as well as services to families of veterans for military-related issues.
While June is set aside to observe PTSD Awareness Month, it is a condition that doesn’t know a timeline. If you or someone you care for needs help, now is the time to get information about the available resources for veterans and their families.
The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.