Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of the most common mental health challenges that veterans face. In some cases, it can be even more debilitating than physical wounds.
Vietnam veterans have the highest lifetime prevalence of PTSD, followed by soldiers who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Gulf War, according to a report by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD symptoms can start soon after a traumatic event but in some cases it may not appear until months or years later. Symptoms may also come and go through the years. There are four types of PTSD symptoms, but they may not appear the same to everyone.
Reliving the traumatic event through nightmares, flashbacks, noises or smells that trigger memories of the event.
Avoiding things that remind you of the event such as crowds because they feel dangerous or driving because you were in a car accident.
Having more negative thoughts and feelings than before the event in ways that make you feel numb, forget parts of the traumatic event, becoming unable to talk about them, thinking the world is dangerous, and feelings of guilt or shame.
Feeling on edge or on alert to an extreme degree that leads to difficulty sleeping and concentrating, substance abuse, aggressive behavior, or bad reactions to loud noises or surprises.
Source: Department of Veterans Affairs
"Data shows, yes, their military experience and any traumatic experiences, life-threatening experiences, combat experiences and deployment — those are all major factors. But they don't really tell the whole story about what culminates and accrues to their suffering and potential disability later on in their life,” explained Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Some of those additional factors include veterans’ stress related to transitions that come with reintegration to civilian life after serving.
"It's these significant periods of transition in military personnel and ultimately veterans’ lives that intersect with their experiences of trauma, combat and deployment,” said Moutier, who was a VA psychiatrist for 17 years. “We now understand that if the veteran is facing homelessness or unemployment, or the inability to sustain themselves or their family, that is also a traumatizing experience."
During her time working with veterans at the VA, she said, the majority of her older patients waited years before coming in for mental health treatment. “It was manifesting in a way that was harmful and detrimental to their own health, and even to their family members around them,” she said.
Many veterans don't know they are suffering from mental health issues due to a stereotype that mental illness exists only in extreme circumstances. In reality, it not uncommon.