After experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, it is common to feel shaken up or anxious. However, if these feelings intensify and last for a prolonged period, it may indicate something more serious, like post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is very common in veterans, as time in the military can expose service members to a slew of traumatizing experiences. Fortunately, PTSD is treatable, and veterans can apply to get disability benefits from Veterans Affairs.

What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that can arise after a traumatic event. Whether a person experiences something firsthand or is a witness, significant events can produce trauma. The effects of trauma can then manifest themselves through certain symptoms.

Individuals with PTSD often suffer from long-lasting and disturbing thoughts and feelings.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD can be hard for individuals and their loved ones to understand. A person can experience an event and believe it had no lasting impact, but that is not always the case. The symptoms of PTSD can begin much later — even years after an event has occurred. 

While symptoms of PTSD vary depending on the person, they typically have one thing in common: they can substantially interfere with a person’s life and relationships. 

PTSD symptoms are frequently grouped into four separate categories: intrusive memories, avoidance, a negative shift in thoughts and mood, and changes in reactions.

When an individual suffering from PTSD has intrusive memories, the symptoms can include:

  • Persistent, unwanted memories of the traumatic event
  • Nightmares about the event
  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event
  • Feeling as if the event were happening again
  • Negative emotional or physical reactions to triggers that remind them of the traumatic event

When an individual’s symptoms are grouped into avoidance, they’ll try to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event or avoid people, places, and things that remind them of the event.

When an individual sufferers a significant change in their thinking and mood, the following symptoms may appear:

  • Hopelessness
  • Negative thoughts about oneself, other people, or the world
  • Issues with memory
  • Lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Feelings of detachment from family and friends
  • Difficulty feeling positive feelings and emotions

Finally, if there are changes in a person’s physical and emotional reactions, symptoms could include:

  • Always being fearful and on guard for danger
  • Easily being startled or scared
  • Trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep
  • Problems with concentration
  • Engaging in self-destructive behavior
  • Feelings of shame or guilt
  • Persistent changes in mood, such as increased irritability

Symptoms of PTSD may start mild at first but may intensify over time. If the symptoms last for longer than a month and seem to be getting severe, it’s best to discuss your situation with a doctor or mental health provider. The earlier you begin to treat the symptoms of your PTSD, the better, as untreated PTSD symptoms can get worse.

Why do veterans have PTSD?

Veterans have been experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder even before it was formally given the name. During World War I, a service member experiencing PTSD symptoms was said to have “shell shock,” and during World War II, the same condition was known as “combat fatigue.” 

During their time in the military, service members see, hear, and experience many things. Many traumatic events can cause PTSD, including:

  • Going through combat and war
  • Experiencing an explosion and its aftermath
  • Losing a friend in battle
  • Repeated exposure to graphic or disturbing events
  • Sexual harassment or sexual assault 
  • Sustaining a life-altering injury, like the loss of a limb or a traumatic brain injury (TBI)

It is not uncommon for service members to come back from military service and have a tough time adjusting to civilian life. Being in the military can expose you to challenging experiences that change the way you see the world and relate to others.

How is PTSD diagnosed?

If you believe you may be suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s best to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. 

A primary care physician may decide to perform a physical examination and/or lab tests to determine whether there may be any physical health issues that could be triggering your symptoms. They may also refer you to a mental health counselor who can diagnose your PTSD if it’s appropriate.

If you discuss your symptoms with your therapist or psychiatrist, they can perform a psychological evaluation. Your evaluation can include discussions regarding your mental and physical symptoms and the traumatic events that may be causing them.

Commonly, to receive a formal diagnosis of PTSD, you’ll exhibit the following:

  • At least one intrusive memory symptom
  • At least one avoidance symptom
  • At least two symptoms resulting from negative changes in thinking and mood
  • At least two symptoms resulting from changes in physical and emotional reactions

The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can begin treating your symptoms and working on your PTSD.

How is PTSD treated?

Treatment for PTSD can depend on your symptoms and preferences. You may need to try various treatments or combinations of treatments before you find one that suits your needs.

PTSD treatment typically involves therapy and/or medication.

There are different kinds of psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, including:

Cognitive therapy: This type of therapy helps you recognize and cope with or change your thinking patterns.

Exposure therapy: This type of therapy safely exposes you to what may be causing your memories and feelings, teaching you how to cope with your triggers in healthy ways.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a mix of exposure therapy and guided eye movements that help you deal with the memories of a traumatic event and change your reaction to them.

There are several types of medications available to treat PTSD, including anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants. 

Your doctor or mental health counselor can help you decide what treatment plan is right for you.

Is PTSD eligible for VA disability?

Veterans suffering from PTSD may qualify for VA disability benefits. To be eligible, you must meet the requirements.

You may be eligible for VA disability benefits if you have PTSD symptoms that are related to a traumatic event and all of the following are true:

  • The traumatic event happened during your service
  • You’ve lost your ability to function as you were once able to function
  • You’ve received a formal diagnosis of PTSD 

The VA does not consider every event to be a “traumatic” event. The VA deems the following to be traumatic events:

  • Severe injury
  • Personal or sexual trauma
  • Sexual violation
  • Threats of injury, sexual assault, or death

Post-traumatic stress disorder is particularly common among service members and veterans. Therefore, the VA takes PTSD seriously.

If You’re Suffering from PTSD, Apply for VA Disability

PTSD is common among those who have suffered traumatic events during their time in the military. If you believe you’re suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, visit your doctor or mental health professional. Then, make sure to file a claim for VA disability benefits.

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