Veterans and PTSDFor veterans afflicted with the mind-numbing, high-anxiety realities of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it’s hard to consider Veteran’s Day a holiday.

And while it has evolved from “shell shock” in World Wars I and II, to “Post-Vietnam Syndrome” in the 1970s, to what is now known as PTSD, the condition in all its forms has severely affected millions of soldiers and families. Despite improved methods of diagnosis and anti-anxiety medications, PTSD continues to evade simple detection and a straightforward cure.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, some of the most commonly reported symptoms of PTSD include:

  • nightmares
  • anger, angry outbursts
  • recurring traumatic memories
  • sleeplessness
  • feeling emotionally numb
  • irritability
  • loss of interest in daily living

Psychiatrists say PTSD diagnoses are difficult to make because the symptoms can mirror so many other quality-of-life complaints, such as depression or bipolar disorder. What’s more, the dark memories and recurring fears of veterans who have felt or witnessed shock and trauma are at once debilitating and tough to explain to friends and colleagues. Sometimes only other vets can truly understand.

“I would sleep at night with a knife in my hand and my [gun] on my chest…and any noise…I would jump up!”

When servicemen and women return home after a tour or tours of duty, they may feel effects of PTSD and also feel robbed of a so-called normal life. Even for those who feel a touch of survivor’s guilt when they make it home seemingly intact, it may take months or years for some to realize that their behavior, their lives, have been rewired or altered by wartime experience.

Some 350 active members of the U.S. military committed suicide in 2012—more than the 295 Americans who died in combat, and more than double the number of suicides in the armed forces 10 years ago. An estimated 8,000 veterans of all ages die by suicide each year, according to a 2012 VA and Suicide Prevention Unit report.

“I was doing absurd amounts of alcohol—and drugs….I tried to alter my reality, my consciousness. Because my consciousness was not very attractive.”

Self-medicating via drugs is often a sign of PTSD among veterans, but this behavior can cloud the picture. Alcohol and drug use can also accompany unhappiness in general, or the less clinical hallmarks of many veterans’ lives: loneliness, joblessness, or degrading feelings of alienation. What’s different about veterans’ PTSD behavior is a burning desire to escape unease, or to rely on drugs’ effects to evade or tamp down dark memories.

In a recent report for the News21 service based at Arizona State University, Ryan Terry, a 24-year-old member of Oklahoma’s Army National Guard, talked about having frequent thoughts of suicide after deploying to Afghanistan in 2011-12: “Just even having the thoughts, it makes you angry at yourself; and then because you’re angry at yourself, you want to hurt yourself, so it’s a pretty vicious cycle.”

“It makes you want to stay secluded in your home.”

Beyond prescription drugs and individual counseling, group therapy and alternative treatments are increasingly common options for veterans suffering from PTSD. From acupuncture and acupressure to yoga, hyperbaric oxygen, and medical marijuana, new treatments are gaining a following, if not yet a solid foothold.

In fact, the VA has spent more than $65 million on research and clinical studies across the U.S.—trying to gauge whether new and alternative treatments (including meditation and nutrient and vitamin supplements) can provide reliable and varied relief to returning servicemen and women, according to News21 reporters Jake Stein and Bonnie Campo. Some 7 percent, or $4.6 million, of that funding, was spent on research for new treatments for PTSD beyond antidepressants and psychotherapy.

In addition, to better treat combat-related trauma and other symptoms, the VA has created 10 Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Centers (MIRECCs) nationwide. Further, the Mindful Nation Foundation is working with top veterans’ organizations across the country to recruit veterans for training in contemplative techniques known to help PTSD. In turn, these veterans will teach and promote meditation and other mindful living tools to veterans in their local communities.

The goals are worthy and noble. It can be a long way from war to peace to peace of mind.

Click here to find out about Rose’s thoughts on wellbeing and health

Find Out More

Veterans’ quotes courtesy of (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) 

Related Article

Leave a comment


Subscribe to Our Newsletter