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Mental Health Center

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Veterans' Health: Conditions and Stressors

An overview of what many veterans and their families experience after serving in war, including PTSD, traumatic brain injury, limb loss, and more.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) continued...

When controlled, PTSD may not be visible to observers, but controlling it is a challenge.

“Triggers can be anything – a building, a shape, a sound, a smell – that reminds me of things I was exposed to in Iraq. The not so obvious triggers are the hardest to identify and avoid,” Arledge says.

PTSD is a mental health condition that can occur after experiencing potentially traumatic events in which one fears for his life, fears injury, or fears for the lives of others. Not everyone who goes to war has PTSD, and not everyone with PTSD has been to war. And not every veteran with PTSD is male. Service women are exposed to much of the same violence and death as men. Further, military sexual trauma is more likely to lead to PTSD than combat is, and women are victims more often than men.

Major symptoms of PTSD are re-experiencing the trauma, through nightmares, memories and flashbacks; avoidance of reminders; feeling guilty for surviving; and hyper-vigilance, which means constantly checking to make sure you’re safe and having sudden outbursts of anger.

Susan Hill, CISW, who is a social worker with the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, sees her young veteran clients scan the halls for danger every day before they step out of her office.

“It’s tiring, it makes you irritable, and it impacts your family,” Hill says.

About 150,000 veterans of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD by the VA, and approximately 113,000 with depressive disorders, according to the U.S. Veterans Health Administration.

PTSD symptoms can be greatly relieved by early intervention, says Sonja Batten, PhD, Assistant Deputy Chief Patient Care Services Officer for Mental Health at the VA Central Office. Still, clinicians counsel veterans from Vietnam, the Korean War, and World War II.

"Some of these guys have slept with night lights since World War II, and they’ve never talked to anyone about what they saw and did. Now they have more time on their hands, and the devil starts to dance on the periphery,” Hill says.

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