Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a natural reaction to experiencing a traumatic or life-threatening event. For veterans, in particular, stressful traumatic events may include serving in combat zones, participating in peacekeeping missions, training accidents, and medical emergencies. It should be remembered that PTSD stressors can be non-combat related for example Military Sexual Trauma (MST). These events may cause the survivor to exhibit four main groups of symptoms: intrusive memories of the event, avoiding situations that remind you of the event, negative alterations of mood, and hypervigilance.
Exposure to traumatic events can result in significant psychological injury, which when left untreated can have a long term effect on a veteran’s health and well-being. It is important to seek medical care for the symptoms of PTSD because when left untreated they may impact a veteran’s ability to perform day to day functions, interact normally with family and friends, and maintain gainful employment. Without proper and timely treatment, PTSD may become permanent and can lead to other conditions like depression, substance abuse, memory and cognition issues, and other physical and mental health diagnoses.
Help is available. Whether you were in the military many years ago, or of you are still in uniform, there are trained professionals who understand military trauma and PTSD treatment. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has established more than 206 Vet Centers and Sexual Assault Treatment Programs nationwide. The Vet Centers, initially created for Vietnam Veterans, now offer services to Veterans from WWII, Korea, Panama, Lebanon, Grenada, Persian Gulf, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
The Vet Centers offer group therapy, bereavement counseling, MST counseling, individual counseling, and marriage and family counseling. Many of the counselors have experienced combat themselves and have a personal understanding of the issues faced by combat veterans.
VA now offers patient centered integrative health services. Through the Integrative Health and Wellness Program, veterans can receive holistic services which aim to support the overall health and wellness of the patient rather than just one symptom. Auricular acupuncture, meditation, yoga, T’ai Chi, wellness massage, nutrition classes, and other programs are available. Your VA provider can submit a Integrative health and Wellness consult.
VA also has inpatient PTSD programs, residential treatment, and day hospital programs. In addition, VA has special programs for substance abuse, homeless veterans, and women's coordinators for female veterans. There are also many private clinicians or not-for-profit agencies that offer specialized treatment for PTSD similar to care provided by VA.
Veterans who are in crisis or have had thoughts of suicide should call the Veterans Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255, and Press 1, chat online at www.veteranscrisisline.net/chat, or text to 838255. If you know someone at risk, help them get help.