Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Important information about medical and legal issues of particular concern to U.S. Military veterans.
(Information on this page is deemed reliable but not guaranteed, and should not be regarded or construed as actual medical or legal advice.)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a term for the psychological consequences of exposure to or confrontation with stressful experiences, which involve actual or threatened death, serious physical injury or a threat to physical integrity and which the person found highly traumatic. Symptoms can include reexperiencing phenomena such as nightmares and flashbacks, avoidance of reminders and emotional detachment, and hyperarousal with sleep abnormalities, extreme distress resulting from personal “triggers”, irritability and excessive startle. There is also the possibility of simultaneous suffering of other psychiatric disorders. Experiences likely to induce the condition include rape, combat exposure, natural catastrophes, violent attacks, and childhood physical/emotional abuse. PTSD often becomes a chronic condition but can improve with treatment or even spontaneously.
PTSD and the Military
If you are in the military, you may have seen combat. You may have been on missions that exposed you to horrible and life-threatening experiences. You may have been shot at, seen a buddy shot, or seen death. These are types of events that can lead to PTSD.
Experts think PTSD occurs:
- In about 30% of Vietnam veterans, or about 30 out of 100 Vietnam veterans.
- In as many as 10% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, or in 10 veterans out of 100.9
- In about 6% to 11% of veterans of the Afghanistan war (Enduring Freedom), or in 6 to 11 veterans out of 100.
- In about 12% to 20% of veterans of the Iraq war (Iraqi Freedom), or in 12 to 20 veterans out of 100.
Other factors in a combat situation can add more stress to an already stressful situation and may contribute to PTSD and other mental health problems. These factors include what you do in the war, the politics around the war, where it’s fought, and the type of enemy you face.
Another cause of PTSD in the military can be military sexual trauma (MST). This is any sexual harassment or sexual assault that occurs while you are in the military. MST can happen to men and women and can occur during peacetime, training, or war.
Among veterans using VA health care, about:
- 23 out of 100 women (23%) reported sexual assault when in the military
- 55 out of 100 women (55%) and 38 out of 100 men (38%) have experienced sexual harassment when in the military
Even though military sexual trauma is far more common in women, over half of all veterans with military sexual trauma are men.
Frequently Asked Questions
I am an American Veteran. Who do I contact for help with PTSD?
You can contact your local VA Hospital or Veterans Center located in your telephone book, or call the VA Health Benefits Service Center toll free at 1-877-222-VETS. In addition to its medical centers, VA also has many CBOCs (Community Based Outpatient Clinics) around each state so you can look for one in your community.
As an American Veteran, how do I file a claim for disability due to PTSD?
A formal request (“claim”) must be filed by the veteran using forms provided by the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration. After the forms are completely submitted, the veteran must complete interviews concerning her or his “social history” (a review of family, work, and educational experiences before, during, and after military service) and “psychiatric status” (a review of past and current psychological symptoms, and of traumatic experiences during military service). The forms and information about the application process can be obtained from Benefits Officers at any VA Medical Center, Outpatient Clinic, or Regional Office.
The process of applying for a VA disability for PTSD can take several months, and can be both complicated and quite stressful. The Veteran’s Service Organizations (VSOs) provide “Service Officers” at no cost to help veterans and family members pursue VA disability claims. Service Officers are familiar with every step in the application and interview process, and can provide both technical guidance and moral support. In addition, some Service Officers particularly specialize in assisting veterans with PTSD disability claims.
Even if a veteran has not been a member of a specific Veterans Service Organization, the veteran still can request the assistance of a Service Officer working for that organization. In order to get representation by a qualified and helpful Service Officer, you can directly contact the local office of any Veterans Service Organization — or ask for recommendations from other veterans who have applied for VA disability, or from a PTSD specialist at a VA PTSD clinic or a Vet Center.
Handouts for military and families covering pre, during and post deployment:
- Transition Assistance for Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom VeteransM (PDF)
Discusses VA’s Transition Centers and lists some resources for further information.
- Warzone-Related Stress Reactions: What Veterans Need to Know (PDF)
Most reactions to traumatic war experiences are temporary, but sometimes the reactions continue after service members return home. Here you will find out what these reactions look like and how to get help….
- Depression (PDF)
Explains what depression is, how it is treated, and what you can do about it.
- Stress, Trauma, and Alcohol and Drug Use (PDF)
Describes when using alcohol to reduce stress becomes a problem and what to do.
- What If I Have Sleep Problems? (PDF)
Provides a list of ten things to do about sleep problems as well as information on nightmares and how sleep problems are treated.
- Coping with Traumatic Stress Reactions (PDF)
Discusses the importance of active coping and ways of coping that do not work. Also lists ways to cope with a variety of traumatic stress symptoms that occur.
- Warzone-Related Stress Reactions: What Families Need to Know (PDF)
Talks about how traumatic stress reactions affect families and also how important the family is in recovery.
- Families in the Military (PDF)
Deployment can lead to different affects for different family members. This sheet describes different reactions for various ages and provides tips to ease the stress.
- Homecoming: Dealing with Changes and Expectations (PDF)
Homecoming can be a joyful and also stressful time. This sheet reviews what reactions to expect of the service member, the spouse and children, as well as provides tips to help you have the best possible reunion.
- Homecoming: Tips for Reunion (PDF)
A brief list of tips for soldiers, spouses and children.
- Returning from the War Zone: A Guide for Families (PDF)
Reintegration is an adjustment for all involved. This guide aims to help families with this process. It covers common reactions that occur following deployment to a war zone, how expectations about homecoming might differ, and discusses what can be done…
- Returning from the War Zone: A Guide for Military Personnel (PDF)
Provides information on common reactions that occur following deployment to a war zone and how expectations about homecoming might differ. Also discusses the types of problems that can occur and what can be done if they do.
(Sources: Department of Veteran Affairs)