Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health issue that can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event such as war, assault, or disaster. Most people have some stress reactions after a trauma. Each service member will have their own experiences. However, understand that almost all service members will need time to readjust after being in a war zone. This can be especially intense during the first months at home. Common stress reactions are a normal part of readjustment.
Below are common physical, mental/emotional, and behavioral reactions that service members may experience:
Common Physical Reactions
- Trouble sleeping, overly tired
- Upset stomach, trouble eating
- Headaches and sweating when thinking of the war
- Rapid heartbeat or breathing
- Existing health problems become worse
Common Mental/Emotional Reactions
- Bad dreams, nightmares
- Flashbacks or frequent unwanted memories
- Feeling nervous, helpless, or fearful
- Feeling guilty, self-blame, shame
- Feeling sad, rejected, or abandoned
- Agitated, easily upset, irritated, or annoyed
- Feeling hopeless about the future
- Experiencing shock, being numb, unable to feel happy
Common Behavioral Reactions
- Trouble concentrating
- Being jumpy and easily startled
- Being on guard, always alert, concerned about safety and security
- Avoiding people or places related to the trauma
- Excessive drinking, smoking, or drug use
- Lack of exercise, poor diet, or health care
- Problems doing regular tasks at work or school
- Aggressive driving habits
Service members may have unwanted memories of the war zone. If something happens that reminds them of a war experience, they may have a range of reactions, from intrusive images and thoughts, all the way to a feeling of reliving their experiences (“flashbacks”) that are so realistic they feel like they are back in the war.
Irritations or reacting more strongly to common family issues, anger and aggression are common war zone stress reactions. Even minor incidents can lead to significant reactions. Reactions like these that last for months can affect relationships, work, and overall well-being if not treated. Emotional or psychological problems are not a sign of weakness. Injuries, including psychological injuries, affect the strong and the brave just like physical injuries. But stigma of mental health issues can be a huge barrier for people who need help, but knowing when and how to get help is actually part of military training.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Major advances in protective and medical technology have vastly increased survivability rates among wounded U.S. service members. They have also introduced new challenges to care for increasing numbers of veterans and service members with extremely complex injuries, particularly polytrauma and traumatic brain injury.
A Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) happens when something outside the body hits the head with significant force. This could happen when a head hits a windshield during a car accident, when a piece of shrapnel enters the brain, or during an explosion of an improvised explosive device (IED.) Individuals who sustain a TBI may experience a variety of effects, such as an inability to concentrate, an alteration of the senses (hearing, vision, smell, taste, and touch), difficulty speaking, and emotional and behavioral changes.
If you experienced head trauma during your service, please contact the VA to schedule an examination. To learn more about TBI, visit www.polytrauma.va.gov.
Military sexual trauma (MST) is the term that the Department of Veterans Affairs uses to refer to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred while the Veteran was in the military. It includes any sexual activity where someone is involved against his or her will – he or she may have been pressured into sexual activities (for example, with threats of negative consequences for refusing to be sexually cooperative or with implied faster promotions or better treatment in exchange for sex), may have been unable to consent to sexual activities (for example, when intoxicated), or may have been physically forced into sexual activities. Other experiences that fall into the category of MST include unwanted sexual touching or grabbing; threatening, offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities; and/or threatening or unwelcome sexual advances.
Both women and men can experience MST during their service. All veterans seen at Veterans Health Administration facilities are asked about experiences of sexual trauma because they know that any type of trauma can affect a person’s physical and mental health, even many years later. People can recover from trauma and the VA has free services to help veterans do this. You do not need to have a VA disability rating (be “service connected”) to receive these services and may be able to receive services even if you are not eligible for other VA care. You do not need to have reported the incident(s) when they happened or have other documentation that they occurred.
For more information, veterans can speak with a VA healthcare provider, contact the MST Coordinator at their nearest VA Medical Center, or contact their local Vet Center. More MST information can be found at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp.