PTSD in Veterans: Signs, Stats & Treatments

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition that can have significant impacts on your quality of life. It can affect anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape. Veterans are at an especially high risk of PTSD after returning home. If you’re suffering from PTSD, it is treatable – but it’s important to seek help.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms of these combat experiences may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety. You may have uncontrollable thoughts about the event. In some cases, these symptoms can be so severe and persistent that they significantly impair a person’s daily life. 

It’s important to understand that PTSD is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It’s a very normal, albeit distressing, response to abnormal events that require mental health services and mental health care.

While PTSD can affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic event, veterans are at an especially high risk of PTSD. They often witness and endure extreme traumatic events as part of their service.

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What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event post-deployment. (1)

It’s more than just feeling upset or scared after a disturbing incident. It’s a chronic, pervasive re-experiencing condition marked by intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic event. These thoughts and feelings persist long after the event. (1)

These thoughts and feelings may include:

  • Fear
  • Horror
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Feeling detached or estranged from others
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions (1)

Many veterans with PTSD have intrusive thoughts or memories of the traumatic event. Flashbacks and nightmares are also common, and they may lead many veterans to avoid situations that remind them of the traumatic event. (1) (2)

PTSD can interfere with your ability to go about your daily activities. It can also lead to self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast, and can affect your ability to maintain close relationships.

The Prevalence of PTSD in Veterans

While anyone can develop PTSD, veterans are particularly at risk because of their experiences during military service. Veterans are often exposed to life-threatening situations, witness the death or injury of fellow service members, and may have to kill or wound others in the line of duty. (2) (3)

So, how common is PTSD in veterans? The prevalence of PTSD in veterans varies depending on the conflict in which they served.

It’s estimated that the following vets have had PTSD in a given year:

  • 15% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom)
  • 14% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans
  • 5% of Vietnam Veterans (3)

Veterans with PTSD often have other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, and are at increased risk for suicide over the general population. (3)

Symptoms and Diagnosis of PTSD in Veterans

The symptoms of PTSD can vary widely between individuals but generally fall into four categories: (4)

  1. Intrusive memories include recurring, unwanted, distressing memories of the traumatic event, flashbacks, or upsetting dreams about the traumatic event.
  2. Avoidance symptoms include trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event or avoiding places, activities, or people that remind the veteran of the traumatic event. 
  3. Negative changes in thinking and mood may include negative thoughts about oneself or the world, feelings of hopelessness, memory problems, and difficulty maintaining close relationships. 
  4. Changes in physical and emotional reactions can include being easily startled, having trouble sleeping, concentrating, being irritable, and engaging in self-destructive behavior.

For a diagnosis of PTSD, veterans must have been exposed to actual or threatened death, serious injury, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. They must also exhibit symptoms from each of the four symptom clusters, lasting for more than a month and causing significant distress or functional impairment.

Risk Factors for PTSD in Veterans

Not all veterans who experience trauma develop PTSD. Various factors can increase a veteran’s risk of developing the disorder. 

These include experiencing intense or long-lasting trauma, having experienced other trauma earlier in life, such as childhood abuse, experiencing military combat, and having mental health problems or substance misuse problems.

Personal factors, such as the veteran’s age, gender, race, and socioeconomic status, can also influence the risk of developing PTSD. For example, female veterans may be at higher risk for PTSD than their male counterparts due to experiences of military sexual trauma.

A family history of mental health problems can also increase risk. If you have a family history of anxiety or depression, you may be more likely to develop PTSD.

Effects of PTSD on Veterans’ Health and Lifestyle

PTSD can have a significant impact on your health and lifestyle. It can lead to physical health problems, such as chronic pain, heart disease, and gastrointestinal problems. (5)  It can also lead to mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Veterans with PTSD may have trouble sleeping, concentrating, and interacting with others. You may avoid social situations, lose interest in activities you once enjoyed, and have difficulty maintaining employment.

PTSD can also strain your relationships with family and friends. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness for the veteran and their loved ones.

Living with PTSD

Living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be an immense challenge, affecting every aspect of a person’s life.

The condition can manifest in various ways, including:

  • Vivid and distressing flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Severe anxiety
  • Emotional numbness

Individuals with PTSD may avoid reminders of their trauma, become hypervigilant, and struggle with sleep disturbances.

These symptoms can significantly decline their quality of life, affecting relationships, work, and overall well-being. However, with the right support and treatment, living with PTSD becomes more manageable. 

Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), can help individuals process their traumatic experiences, reduce symptoms, and regain a sense of control. (6) (7)

Medications may also be prescribed to alleviate anxiety and depression associated with PTSD. Building a support network of friends and family who understand the condition is essential, fostering empathy and a non-judgmental environment.

Treatment Options for Veterans with PTSD

If you’re suffering from PTSD, know that effective treatment is available. Various treatment options can help manage symptoms, improve quality of life, and bring about recovery.

  1. Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, often referred to as talk therapy, stands as a cornerstone in treating PTSD. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) are two particularly effective forms. (8) CPT assists veterans in reshaping negative thought patterns linked to traumatic experiences, fostering transformative changes in behavior and cognition. On the other hand, PE systematically exposes individuals to memories or situations associated with trauma, gradually alleviating anxiety and desensitizing them to triggers.
  2. Medication: For some veterans, medication proves to be an effective component of PTSD treatment. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), both classes of antidepressants, are commonly prescribed. (9) These medications play a role in managing the various symptoms associated with PTSD, contributing to overall well-being.
  3. Complementary and Alternative Treatments: In addition to conventional approaches, complementary and alternative treatments offer valuable options for veterans coping with PTSD. Yoga, social support, meditation, and acupuncture have shown promise in providing additional relief. (10) These holistic approaches focus on the mind-body connection, offering veterans alternative avenues for managing stress and fostering a sense of balance.

Recognizing the diversity of available treatments enables veterans to make informed decisions that align with their unique needs and preferences. Additionally, the veterans crisis line and VA healthcare are always open.

Coping Strategies for Veterans Suffering from PTSD

For military veterans dealing with PTSD, adopting effective coping strategies through healthcare is highly important in managing the challenges that arise after active duty. 

While these strategies aren’t a substitute for professional treatment, they can significantly contribute to the overall well-being of war veterans and military personnel.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet is a foundational pillar in supporting physical and mental health. The intake of nutrient-rich foods, not only fuels the body but also contributes to a sense of vitality and liveliness in everyday life. 

Additionally, regular engagement in physical activity stands as a powerful tool for promoting mental well-being. Exercise, due to its ability to release endorphins, acts as a natural mood enhancer, aiding in the alleviation of stress and anxiety.

Establishing and sticking with healthy sleep habits forms an essential component of self-care. Consistency in sleep patterns and creating a conducive sleep environment positively impact overall health and resilience.

Connection with Others: Creating meaningful connections with family members and friends really helps someone coping with PTSD. Building a network of understanding relationships provides emotional support and a sense of belonging.

Participation in support groups tailored for veterans with PTSD offers a unique route for shared experiences and mutual understanding among peers. Sometimes, volunteering within the community not only provides an opportunity to contribute but also facilitates connections with others who may share similar struggles.

Stress Management Techniques: Incorporating stress management techniques into daily life contributes to a more balanced and centered existence. Practices such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and yoga effectively manage stressors and promote emotional resilience, lessening hypervigilance.

Resources and Support for Veterans with PTSD

Fortunately, there are numerous resources available for veterans with PTSD. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers several services for veterans with PTSD, including mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and readjustment counseling.

Various non-governmental organizations offer support to veterans with PTSD. These include:

In addition to these resources, online resources can also be valuable. Websites like provide comprehensive information about PTSD, including how to recognize it, how to get help, and how to support loved ones with PTSD.

Will PTSD Ever Go Away?

The path of dealing with PTSD isn’t the same for everyone. It’s like asking if a cold will ever completely disappear – it varies. 

Let’s break down what might influence whether PTSD fully goes away:

  • Different for Everyone: PTSD shows up in different ways for different people. Some might see their symptoms ease over time, while others might face a longer struggle.
  • Getting the Right Help: If you tackle PTSD with the right kind of help – like therapies such as talking therapy or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) – it can make a big difference.
  • How You Respond to Treatment: People respond differently to treatment. Some might feel much better, while others might see a slower improvement. The key is to stick with therapies that work for you and have a good support system.
  • Other Things in the Mix: Things like dealing with other mental health issues or ongoing stressors can also affect how PTSD plays out. Tackling all these factors together is important for a full recovery.
  • Long-Term vs. Getting Better: For some, PTSD might stick around longer, becoming chronic. But for many, it can get a lot better or even go away over time. Researchers are always learning more, which helps improve how we treat PTSD.
  • Taking Care of Yourself: Doing things that make you feel good and managing stress is vital. It’s like keeping yourself healthy while dealing with a tough situation.
  • Growing Stronger: Dealing with PTSD isn’t just about overcoming it – it’s also about growing stronger. Developing coping skills, building a supportive network, and finding a sense of purpose all play a role in moving forward.

With the right help, self-care, and time, many people find a way to live a life marked by resilience and growth despite the challenges of PTSD.

The Future of PTSD Treatment for Veterans

Effectively addressing PTSD among veterans hinges on early identification and timely treatment. Recognizing the signs and reaching out for support are crucial steps.

  1. Early Intervention and Recognition: The cornerstone of successful PTSD management lies in recognizing symptoms early on. Timely intervention is vital, as it sets the stage for more effective treatment outcomes. (11)
  2. Accessing Mental Health Support: If there’s a suspicion of PTSD, reaching out to a mental health professional becomes a pivotal step. Consulting with someone trained in understanding the complexities of trauma and its effects is a crucial part of the journey towards recovery.
  3. The Strength in Seeking Help: Acknowledging the need for assistance is not a sign of weakness but a testament to one’s strength. Seeking help for mental health concerns, including PTSD, demonstrates resilience and a commitment to personal well-being.
  4. Collaboration with Trusted Individuals: Engaging with trusted loved ones can provide an additional layer of support. Sharing the experience with someone who understands and cares can be instrumental in navigating the challenges associated with PTSD.
  5. Recovery and Fulfillment: The prospect of recovery from PTSD is tangible, especially with the right treatment and support in place. With a comprehensive approach that addresses both physical and psychological aspects, individuals can envision and work towards leading fulfilling lives beyond the constraints of PTSD.
  6. Combating Stigma: It’s crucial to dispel the stigma surrounding mental health concerns. Recognizing the courage it takes to seek help and promoting an environment of understanding contribute to fostering a culture where veterans feel supported and encouraged to address their mental health in civilian life.

Protect the Americans Who Have Protected Us

Addressing PTSD in army, active-duty, navy, or combat veterans is an ongoing and evolving journey that requires a multifaceted approach. From early recognition and intervention to fostering a culture that encourages seeking help, the path to recovery is paved with resilience and support.

Looking forward, the future of PTSD treatment for veterans holds promise, marked by ongoing research, advancements, and a growing understanding of effective interventions. By promoting awareness, dispelling stigma, and fostering a compassionate environment, we contribute to a collective effort to support veterans on their journey toward healing and well-being.

Every step taken towards understanding, empathy, and comprehensive care is a step towards a brighter and more hopeful future for veterans affected by PTSD.

Call our free 24/7 helpline today at (855) 430-9439, and join us on your journey toward a healthy and happy life again.

Author: Kate Byrd PharmD. Kate is a medical writer who received her doctorate in pharmacy from UCSF. With 15 years of experience as a community pharmacist, she now enjoys creating reliable and engaging content. 



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