PTSD in Veterans ​

PTSD in Veterans

Table of Contents

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced disturbing and agonizing events such as war. Other incidents that usually trigger PTSD include the loss of a loved one, a severe accident, death threats, abuse, sexual assault, and a critical injury or illness.1

How Many Veterans Have PTSD?

The call to serve one’s country is an honorable one. It allows one to help their country and the chance to make a profound impact on their immediate society. People recognize their sacrifices and applaud them. However, not enough of society discusses the dangers of PTSD in Veterans.

One study of 60,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans revealed that 13.5% of both deployed and non-deployed veterans showed signs of PTSD. Similarly, 500,000 veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for the past 13 years have been diagnosed with PTSD.2

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs states that 11 to 20 out of every 100 veterans experience PTSD.3

Risk Factors of PTSD in Veterans

It is difficult to know why some military individuals develop PTSD and others don’t. Some factors tend to increase the likelihood of persistence of PTSD in soldiers.

Combat Risk Factor

Combat exposure may be a strong risk factor for PTSD among military men.3 Combat risk factors arise due to exposure to death, the threat of death, severe injury, severe trauma, and exposure to extreme violence.4

Studies show that there is an often heightened state of PTSD among those with injuries, those discharging weapons, and those witnessing others being killed or injured. Military men who witness these events show signs of PTSD during or after service.

Non-combat Risk Factor

The non-combat risk factors refer to incidents that have nothing to do with the war field. Some of the risk factors include comorbid physical health conditions, stress, chronic pain, and lack of support.5

Chronic pain as a result of wounds received during service often increases PTSD symptoms. The risk of PTSD is also likely to increase when veterans have no access to social relationships, which would help to cope with invasive symptoms and to share feelings with others.5

Sexual Assault in the Military

Sexual assault is an important risk factor in predicting PTSD and other medical conditions. A study of 270 veteran women at the VA North Texas Healthcare System indicated that VA women who were sexually assaulted are 9 times more likely to suffer from PTSD.6

The victims of sexual assaults experience depression, guilt, fear, and shame. Victims are often scared to discuss their experiences because they feel people may blame them. Reports of sexual abuse in the military are as high as 40% and, in reality, could be higher since many sexual assault cases are unreported.7

Signs and Symbols of PTSD in Veterans

VA PTSD starts right after a disturbing event, but symptoms may not appear until months or years later. The symptoms may also be infrequent or intermittent for years. Normally, if the signs still show after four weeks, a PTSD diagnosis can take place. Common signs and symptoms often associated with PTSD in veterans include:

Reliving Event

Reliving event is also called re-experiencing symptoms. It refers to the replaying of the traumatic events in the victim’s head so the victim feels the same way they felt during that period. Some of the different ways of reliving events include:

Persistent Negative Emotions

Victims usually have a dark and negative impression after a disturbing event. They begin to feel low and negative about themselves and the people around them. For instance, women who have been sexually assaulted may loathe men unconsciously. Some of the other aspects of negative emotions can include that:

Hypervigilance or Hyperarousal

Hypervigilance or hyperarousal is a state of heightened alertness or anxiety in the victims. This condition is accompanied by physiological and psychological symptoms such as elevated heart rate, sweating, and fast breathing.

Hypervigilance makes people with PTSD overly sensitive and always looking out for danger (often not real), even in a safe place. Hypervigilance is characterized by the following:

Health Risks Associated with PTSD

Some studies associate PTSD in veterans with poor physical health conditions. Research has shown that PTSD in veterans often affected physical health conditions. Some of these conditions include cancer, ischemic heart disease, chronic pain, and mental health issues.9 The common risk factors include:

Substance Use

Surveys have reported that 70% of patients receiving treatment of substance abuse have a previous trauma exposure. Most studies of veterans and substance abuse indicate a close relation.10 In an attempt to cope with PTSD symptoms or avoid reliving traumatic events, some victims resort to heavy drinking, drug use, and smoking, eventually leading to increased VA PTSD.sup>11

Chronic Pain

Victims with unbearable pain from traumatic incidents may experience PTSD nightmares. Many PTSD patients have chronic pain as their primary disorder, with a prevalence rate of 80%. Similarly, 50 million adults suffer from chronic pain resulting in PTSD.12

Several other studies have linked extended pain to a disability, dissociation from people, lack of trust, sexual abuse, and psychological distress. These symptoms can be common with veterans.12

Mental Health Issue

Studies have shown that the psychological and behavioral effects of PTSD may cause comorbid depressive and anxiety disorders, anxiety, or states of panic. Hostility, irritability, aggression, and anger are also signs of mental health issues in VA PTSD. Veterans usually have a hard time adjusting to the civilian lifestyle and finding PTSD medications.

Fear, anxiety, and panic are responses to the assumption of fear and danger. A lack of social connection can also increase anger, depression, and repression of feelings.

Means of Controlling PTSD

Effects of PTSD can be devastating and detrimental to victims’ lives. However, there are some healthy ways to deal with it.


Victims must learn to adjust to everyday life. Accept and acknowledge that the situation has happened. Do some research about PTSD, and educate others as well. The more you learn about PTSD, the better you are at finding solutions and talking freely with others.


Mindfulness is a form of PTSD treatment. It is the state of being aware or conscious of your surroundings. Symptoms of PTSD like hypervigilance occur when victims focus on past events. Practicing mindfulness can make you feel calm, relaxed, and in control of the situation.13 When you acknowledge that past events have no effects on your present moment, it becomes easy to live accordingly.

Positive Thinking

Victims must accept that the traumatic event is not their fault. Negative thoughts can sometimes be difficult to eliminate, especially if the incident is still fresh. However, replacing them with positive thoughts can reduce the occurrence of PTSD symptoms. Distraction from negative thoughts such as deep breathing and mindfulness can help reduce the PTSD effect drastically.

Peer Support

Peer support is one of the popular PTSD treatment plans. It involves a group of victims of traumatic events coming together to discuss their experiences. The members of these support groups encourage one another to speak freely. Peer support can help victims build a sense of connection with people who understand their situations.

PTSD and Substance Use Disorders

The treatment of co-occurring PTSD and SUDs is important because half of the victims who seek SUD treatment also meet the criteria for PTSD.

How to Treat PTSD and SUDs as Part of a Dual Diagnosis

It is no surprise that PTSD diagnosis often reveals substance use disorder, since victims may use drugs and alcohol to cope with PTSD symptoms. Medications to help stop addiction, including naltrexone, buprenorphine, and acamprosate, can also stand aid PTSD symptoms. Other treatment plan includes non-exposure-based psychosocial treatments, exposure-based psychosocial treatments, and medical trials.14

Unfortunately, the call to being a patriot and to impact society can result in PTSD. This condition leads to nightmares, sleeplessness, hyperarousal, and negative thoughts. Thankfully, there are PTSD treatment plans like peer support groups and mindfulness that help mitigate its effects.

PTSD and SUDs are sometimes treated together since the patients for the two conditions exhibit the same criteria. With therapies, a reliable support system, and certified PTSD medications, the effects of PTSD in veterans can be minimized.




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