Why is there such a negative stigma attached to combat veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? I feel like when somebody finds out that I have PTSD their mind immediately goes to the worst case scenario. They automatically assume that because I have PTSD at some point I’m going to flip my lid and go crazy on them.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
PTSD is defined as an anxiety disorder that can occur following the experience of a traumatic event. A traumatic event is a life-threatening event such as military combat. It is very unfortunate, but many veterans and active duty soldiers suffer from PTSD when they return home from a deployments. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that anywhere from 11 – 20% of all veterans suffer from PTSD.
I was an Army Ranger and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 and to Iraq in 2003. While on deployment my squad was part of a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) Team. This meant that we were constantly on high alert and going out on missions. I was diagnosed with PTSD upon returning back to the states from my second deployment.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
Symptoms of PTSD can develop within hours or days following a traumatic event. Sometimes these symptoms don’t surface for months or even years after you return from deployment. While PTSD develops differently from veteran to veteran, there are four main symptoms of PTSD:
- Recurrent, reminders of the traumatic event, including distressing thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks where you feel like the event is happening all over again. You experience extreme emotional and physical reactions to reminders of the trauma such as panic attacks, uncontrollable shaking, and heart palpitations.
- Avoiding things that remind you of the traumatic event, including people, places, thoughts, or situations you associate with the bad memories. Withdrawing from friends and family and losing interest in everyday activities. I used to isolate myself from everyone.
- Negative changes in your thoughts and mood, such as exaggerated negative beliefs about yourself or the world and persistent feelings of fear, guilt, or shame. Diminished ability to experience positive emotions.
- Being on guard all the time, jumpy, and emotionally reactive. This is indicated by irritability, anger, reckless behavior, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, and hypervigilance.
How do veterans cope with PTSD?
Many veterans returning from military service suffer with PTSD. It can be tempting to turn to drugs and alcohol to numb painful memories and get to sleep. But substance abuse can make the symptoms of PTSD worse.
For years I didn't talk about my combat experiences with anyone. I kept all of my thoughts, regrets, feelings, and war experiences bottled up on the inside. Besides, if I told anyone about it they wouldn’t understand me. They hadn’t been what I had been through. They would probably just look at me like I was crazy.
I did find some therapy though for PTSD. I found it in a bottle of liquor. This was the only way I knew how to cope with PTSD and the thoughts that I was having. When I was drunk I didn’t dwell on all the bad things. Drinking helped me forget and just have a good time. My PTSD and alcoholism got so bad at one point that I ended up being homeless and sleeping on the streets of Jacksonville, FL.
I wish I could say it was an easy road getting my life back together, but it wasn't. I lived for a while at the Five Star Veterans Center, a homeless shelter for veterans in Jacksonville. It was while living there that I finally realized I wasn't alone in my struggle with PTSD. I was able to start talking to other guys that had been through similar situations that I had been through.
It really helped me to talk to other veterans about my problems. I encourage any veteran suffering with PTSD to find a support group to join. I did and it has changed my life. Don't let your PTSD get the point where mine did. It almost destroyed my life.
Below are some general resources for veterans with PTSD:
- Call the 24/7 Veteran Combat Call Center
1-877-WAR-VETS (1-877-927-8387) to talk to another combat Veteran.
- DoD's Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) 24/7 Outreach Center for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury provides information and helps locate resources.
- Warrior Care Network Wounded Warrior Project: Warrior Care Network Link will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site. This collaboration between Wounded Warrior Project and its academic medical partners connects Veterans living with PTSD, TBI, and other related conditions to clinical services.
- Military OneSource
Call 24/7 for counseling and many resources 1-800-342-9647.