Behavioral VA Health Care
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The psychological effects of war have been noted in veterans throughout history. PTSD was first officially defined in 1980. VA clinicians have found PTSD in veterans of all armed conflicts including WWII, Korea, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.
PTSD is often misunderstood by veterans, families and the public. PTSD symptoms may include flashbacks, sleep disorders, depression, feelings of isolation or anger, feeling numb, or being preoccupied with the war experience. Sometimes symptoms are misinterpreted as signs of personal weakness rather than normal human responses to abnormally stressful situations. Because of misunderstanding about the symptoms, the first reaction by many is to try to self-medicate by use of alcohol or other drugs.
Another misunderstanding of PTSD has to do with the onset of the disorder. For some veterans, symptoms occur right after the traumatic experiences. For other veterans, symptoms begin many years after they thought they had put their military experience behind them. Life stressors such as birth of a child, divorce, death of a loved one, or retirement may trigger symptoms. This may happen even when a person who seemed to have no problems makes the transition to civilian life.
For other veterans, direct reminders of the military experience may trigger symptoms. News reports from Bosnia, the attack on the U.S. embassies, the U.S. peace mission in Somalia are all recent events that have been associated with an increase in veterans experiencing a return of PTSD experiences. For others, it may be firecrackers on the fourth of July, the sound of helicopters or certain smells associated with the combat theater. To cope with these experiences, veterans may try to avoid all reminders of their military experience. Some, however, may immerse themselves in reminders. These reminders may be such things as war movies or an association with veteran groups.
Unfortunately, because of misunderstanding about PTSD, many veterans may not seek treatment. Treatment can reduce symptoms by helping the veteran and his or her family develop coping techniques to manage the disorder. Individual therapy usually focuses on reducing distress from reminders of the individual traumatic experience. Group therapies may help the veterans understand that they were not alone in their reaction to the military service. While PTSD may be a chronic condition with periodic return, treatment can help the veteran understand and deal with the life-changing nature of the trauma. PTSD can be understood.
How to Reach Us
Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms can get treatment at VA. Primary Care and Behavioral Health programs screen for PTSD symptoms. Veterans may self-refer for evaluation at VISN 2 Behavioral Health clinics.
Veterans may also self-refer for evaluation at Vet Centers located in most major metropolitan areas.