Hundreds of US veterans get diagnosed with PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder every year. Post-traumatic stress disorder may or may not be a chronic condition. If left untreated, the symptoms may persist and a person may continue to suffer for a lifetime. The first symptoms are usually experienced within the first month but, in some cases, it may take up to three months after the traumatic experience. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder experienced after three months or a year later usually have another triggering incident.
Although traumatic experiences are common, veterans are more likely to be exposed to a number of severely traumatic events during the course of their service, thus leading to an increase in statistics when it comes to veterans with PTSD.
SYMPTOMS OF PTSD
Combat violence, accidents, sexual assault and different kinds of abuse are the most common causes of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans. Combat violence and other frightening realities of war are the most common cause of PTSD in veterans. The first symptoms of PTSD are mostly connected with reliving the experience the most common ones being nightmares, severe headaches, flashbacks or frightening thoughts. These symptoms will often lead to an avoidance tendency. This is the second phase of PTSD symptoms - a person loses interest in normal activities which would otherwise be joyous or enjoyable, they may experience depression and numbness, guilt or sense of victimhood depending on the nature of the traumatic event. These symptoms will worsen with time if unchecked, causing a person to feel anxious or scared, experience abrupt verbal or physical outbursts and sleeping problems.
PTSD IN VETERANS
Post-traumatic stress disorder is common among veterans. Until recently there hadn’t been a thorough understanding of PTSD and it was believed to be specifically a soldier’s illness. The first recorded cases of PTSD in veterans date back to 1980, after the Vietnam War. It was the first ever diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is estimated that more than 30% of Vietnam veterans suffered from PTSD. It is also reported that as many as 84.8% of those who had suffered from PTSD after the Vietnam War have some moderate impairments even today – and that’s more than three decades after the traumatic experience of the conflict.
More recently, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused post-traumatic stress disorder in as many as 20% of veterans. Around 2.8 million personnel served in the two still ongoing wars. More than half a million veterans of the two wars have already been diagnosed with PTSD in the last fifteen years. To put things into perspective, around 60% of civilians or nonmilitary Americans who experience a traumatic incident are likely to have PTSD. Around half of all people with PTSD do not seek any treatment. This is also the case for PTSD in veterans.
5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP A VETERAN WITH PTSD
Veterans with PTSD generally do not view the world as a joyous place. The traumatic experiences leave them psychologically bruised and they tend to trust very few people. As a friend, you ought to establish trust. A vital part of conquering PTSD is re-establishing the feeling of safety - a veteran with PTSD must feel comfortable in your presence, they should feel safe and comforted.
LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND, NOT TO RESPOND
Some vets with PTSD don’t like talking about their experiences but they will at some point of time, especially when they feel comfortable with your company. With time, an individual struggling with PTSD might be more willing to share their experience and also how they feel now, which would be the symptoms. Regardless of how forthcoming a veteran is and what they share, you should listen to understand. Do not listen to respond. It is absolutely acceptable to not have any response to what you hear. Being there for veterans with PTSD is more important than trying to offer some kind of solace or saying something that would not make any difference.
FIGURE OUT THEIR COMFORT ZONES
Some veterans with PTSD will take comfort in spending time with their family, be it their husband or wife, daughter or son, grandson or granddaughter. Some vets with PTSD may experience joy when surrounded by their entire family. Some may be happy with a pet and some will want to be left alone with their hobby, which could be anything from gardening to woodworking, volunteering to working on their shooting skills. You must figure out their comfort zones and support them the way they want you to and not how you would want to.
WATCH OUT FOR WORSENING SYMPTOMS
This is perhaps the most important task of anyone caring for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder usually don’t affect others but at times a person can get violent. It could be verbal outbursts or physical violence. This may not be aimed towards another person or anyone in the family - it could be aimed at inanimate objects in the house. Even if the outburst is harmless, however, you should consider seeking the help of an expert. You don’t want to be unprepared for scenarios when a situation turns into something harmful for the veteran with PTSD or for others around. However, it must be noted that veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder are rarely violent, more afraid of reliving their own experiences and extremely unlikely to cause any traumatic experience for others. There are also various PTSD checklists available for online download that you can use to assess the situation.
OFFER ASSISTANCE WITH DISABILITY CLAIM AND BENEFITS
You should not only attend to the symptoms of PTSD in veterans but also assist them in filing their disability claim. Download and file a VA form 21-0781 via the Department of Veterans Affairs website so that your friend or loved one can successfully apply for benefits. You may also need to report substance abuse if vets with post-traumatic stress disorder are indulging in it. Many veterans with PTSD don’t know the exact procedures and they are often not too interested in exploring how they can use available resources. Remember, it is upon the family member, friend or caregiver to ensure vets with PTSD get all forms of assistance they need and can get.