Understanding PTSD in Army Veterans: Overview and Treatment Options

Understanding Ptsd In Army Veterans
Understanding PTSD in Army Veterans

According to the World Health Organization (WHO),  almost 250 million people experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) worldwide. While the condition affects many, it is more acute among war veterans who are at high risk of developing the condition. The trauma of War, horrific situations, and life-threatening circumstances eventually take their tollway past service. The impact of PTSD on army veterans can be profound, affecting their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. The way forward involves effective treatments, which are essential for helping veterans manage and overcome this condition. This article explores the mental challenges veterans face, the factors contributing to PTSD in army veterans and viable treatment options.

Understanding PTSD in Army Veterans

Experiencing war is not easy. Having to participate in it, risk your life and take the lives of others are actions humans weren’t meant to do; however, from the dawn of time, the urge to dominate and  the desire for power has led to violence and bloodshed throughout history. Beyond the collateral damage, the soldiers who suffer even post-retirement inevitably live out their nightmares in the form of mental conditions, prevalent among them, PTSD. While Anxiety, depression, substance abuse and traumatic brain injury (TBI) take a toll, PTSD is the biggest challenge among veterans because of their exposure to combat, witnessing death, and handling extreme stress, all of which severely impact mental health.

Causes of PTSD in Veterans

PTSD is more common among veterans due to the unique and extreme nature of their service experiences. Soldiers in the line of duty are in constant danger of witnessing violence and experiencing life-threatening situations. Individual characteristics and post-service challenges can also become stressors leading to PTSD. Common reasons are:

  • Combat Exposure: Direct combat situations where soldiers experience or witness injury, life-threatening situations, and destruction can leave lasting psychological scars.
  • Life-Threatening Situations: The constant threat to life and field hazards creates an environment of chronic stress and fear.
  • Loss of Comrades: Losing friends and comrades in battle can lead to profound grief and guilt. Bonds forged with others during service are powerful.
  • Extended Deployments: Long and multiple deployments increase the likelihood of exposure to traumatic events, making it harder for veterans to recover between tours of duty.
  • Military Sexual Trauma (MST): Both male and female veterans may experience MST or sexual assault or harassment during their service, which can lead to PTSD.
  • Individual Vulnerability: Pre-existing mental health conditions, trauma history, and genetic risk of mental disorders increase the risk of developing PTSD. Veterans who have experienced childhood trauma are particularly vulnerable.
  • Lack of Support: A lack of social support during and after service can increase PTSD symptoms. A strong support network involving fellow veterans, family, and friends is vital to increase the chances of recovery.
  • Transition: Transitioning from army to civilian life can be challenging for veterans who have served for their entire working career. It can be not easy finding employment, and living a new lifestyle. These can become stressors to trigger or worsen PTSD symptoms.
  • Stigmatization: The stigma associated with mental health issues can prevent veterans from seeking help. Additionally, logistical barriers such as access to healthcare facilities can prevent treatment.

Comorbidities in Veterans

Psychiatric comorbidities further complicate the condition of veterans with PTSD, the most common being depression. According to studies, Those with PTSD are three times more likely to acquire major depressive disorder (MDD). Common comorbidities that can accompany PTSD in veterans are:

Anxiety and Depression: The high-stress environment of military service, coupled with the challenges of reintegration into civilian life, can lead to Anxiety and depression. Veterans may struggle with hopelessness, lack of motivation, and persistent worry.

Substance Abuse: Turning to alcohol and drugs is a prevailing development in veterans trying to cope with mental issues. It worsens their existing mental health conditions, creating additional challenges.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Many veterans suffer from TBI due to exposure to explosions or head injuries. This leads to cognitive impairments, emotional dysregulation, increasing  the risk of  PTSD.

Physical issues: According to studies, it has been found that PTSD was associated with chronic pain, an occurrence frequently reported.

Treatment Options for PTSD in Veterans

Effective PTSD treatment for veterans involves a combination of therapies tailored to individual needs. Here are some of the primary treatment options:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT, used in several mental conditions, is one of the most effective treatments for PTSD. CBT for PTSD can help identify and change negative thought patterns, which are termed distortions and behaviors associated with trauma. CBT may involve techniques such as cognitive restructuring and exposure therapy beneficial for veterans with PTSD. During CBT sessions, clinicians can educate veterans on their conditions and trauma helping them develop positive coping skills.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)

PE is a type of CBT that involves repeated, detailed recounting of traumatic experiences, feelings, and situations to reduce its intensity. This process helps veterans confront and process their trauma in a safe and controlled environment. Confronting their mental challenges helps veterans to decrease their PTSD symptoms.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a therapy that uses guided eye movements to help veterans process and understand their trauma. The objective of EMDR  is to reduce the emotional distress associated with those memories.

Group Therapy

Group therapy provides a supportive environment where veterans can share their experiences and learn coping strategies from each other. It helps reduce isolation and fosters a sense of community.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Besides psychological therapy techniques, other complementary and alternate remedies could support ongoing treatment helping veterans reduce symptoms of PTSD.

Mindfulness and Meditation: Mindfulness practices, including meditation, yoga, and deep-breathing exercises can help veterans manage stress and improve their overall mental well-being.

Acupuncture: Some veterans find relief from PTSD symptoms through acupuncture, which involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to promote healing and relaxation.

Animal-Assisted Therapy: Animal therapy, where humans are made to interact with animals, particularly service dogs, can provide emotional support and reduce feelings of isolation and Anxiety.

Social Support

While treatment and therapy are vital, social support is crucial to help veterans integrate into society and participate in family life. Mental health advocacy by organizations such as SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has a pan-India presence, helping to address the mental health needs of military and veteran families. While professional NGOs can play a significant role in supporting veterans with PTSD, family is the first line of support. Family therapy helps improve communication and rebuild relationships strained by PTSD. Education and employment programs can assist veterans in finding meaningful employment or pursuing education can enhance their sense of purpose and stability, which are crucial for mental health.

PTSD in veterans may be a common mental health condition, but despite being a challenge, effective treatments are available. Addressing PTSD requires a comprehensive approach that includes psychotherapy, medication, complementary therapies, and social support. Helping veterans understand their trauma and assisting them in developing positive coping strategies will help them live a better-quality life and overcome PTSD.