What does the face of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) look like?
For too many veterans, they simply have to look in the mirror to know the answer to this question.
PTSD is a serious and very complex disorder that affects veterans as a result of the horrors of war, injury, or other in-service event that acts as the root of the disorder.
Once it was called combat fatigue, shell shock and war neurosis.
It affects men and women, the young and old. Often it happens as a direct result of combat. Sometimes it is a result of intense fear.
But one thing that remains common among veterans suffering with PTSD is that it doesn’t simply “go away”.
In my practice I’ve had the privilege to meet many vets who have been diagnosed with PTSD and many who were referred out to medical providers for evaluation of PTSD.
The VA seems to do a decent job of screening for PTSD symptoms. Just ask anyone who has been asked those questions over and over again every time they go in to the VA for even a hangnail.
But there is good reason for this constant screening. In 2011, nearly a half-million veterans were treated at the VA for PTSD. The rate of PTSD in Vietnam veterans has been found to be as high as 30 percent, according to the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. Persian Gulf war vets reflect a PTSD rate as high as 24 percent; and the Iraq and Afghanistan war vets it is currently at 12.5 percent, with that number expected to rise dramatically.
PTSD also affects families.
Many vets talk to me and make it clear that what we discuss stays between us, allowing the vet to have a kind of compartmentalization of their life in war outside of their life now.
We all value how our family “sees us,” and I think vets don’t want to burden their families with stories of war time when discussing their VA Disability claim.
That’s a situation where being an attorney, outside of the family, actually is a benefit for the veteran. The vets status as a father, spouse, brother or sister doesn’t have to then be tainted by a far away war. An important part of my job is just listening and being that safe place where veterans can talk openly about what they saw and experienced in service to their country.
What kind of symptoms do vets suffering from PTSD experience? Let’s see what the VA has to say about this:
- The veteran has bad dreams or nightmares about the event that happened in service or something similar to it.
- The vet behaves or feels as if the event were happening all over again (this is known as having flashbacks)
- The vet has a lot of strong or intense feelings when reminded of the event
- The vet has a lot of physical sensations when reminded of the event (for example, a racing or pounding heart, sweating, finding it hard to breathe, feeling faint, feeling like they are going to lose control)
- The veteran has symptoms of avoiding reminders of the traumatic event that they experienced in service:
- Avoid thoughts, feelings, or talking about things that remind them of the event
- Avoid people, places, or activities that remind them of the event
- Have trouble remembering some important part of the event
- Since the event happened, the veteran notices that they:
- Have lost interest in, or just don’t do, things that used to be important to them
- Feel detached from people; find it hard to trust people
- Feel emotionally “numb” or find it hard to have loving feelings even toward those who are emotionally close to the veteran
- Have a hard time falling or staying asleep
- Are irritable and have problems with anger
- Have a hard time focusing or concentrating
- Have a feeling that they may not live very long and feel there’s no point in planning for the future
- Are jumpy and get startled or surprised easily
- Are always “on guard”
- Stomach problems
- Intestinal (bowel) problems
- Gynecological (female) problems
- Weight gain or loss
- Pain, for example, in back, neck, or pelvic area
- Skin rashes and other skin problems
- Lack of energy; feel tired all the time
- Alcohol, drug, or other substance use problems
- Depression or feeling down
- Anxiety or worry
- Panic attacks
There are other symptoms, specific to women who are suffering from PTSD. I’ll address women veterans and PTSD in a later blog post.
If you see several of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, talk to a professional about it.
There are an incredible number of ways for veterans to discuss and get help with PTSD:
- The VA Veteran Crisis Line: (800) 273-8255, Option 1 (You can also TEXT them: Text to 838255)
- The Veteran Combat Call Center (87) WAR-VETS (1-877-927-8387) to talk to another combat war veteran
- DOD Defense Center for Excellence (866) 966-1020
- Military OneSource (800) 342-9647 (counseling and other resources)
- Support for Families of those who suffer from PTSD
If your claim for PTSD was denied by the VA, please consider contacting my office. As a Navy veteran, I am very proud to work with veterans who are still paying the price for our freedoms. If I can help, I’m honored to do it.