Our military veterans put their lives on the line to protect the freedom and safety of the United States of America. Those who served in active duty faced the harsh realities of war, including serious physical injury and, sometimes, death. Experiencing these life-altering and traumatic events can alter the lives of the soldiers who endured them.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
One of the most common anxiety disorders afflicting our combat veterans is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD occurs in people who have gone through a traumatic or life-threatening experience, such as military combat, serious accident, natural disaster, or violet personal assault like rape. Research has found that between 10-20% of soldiers who engaged in combat report symptoms of PTSD. While some people are able to work through these traumas and return to their normal activities over a period of time, others find it difficult to resume their daily routines.
PTSD leads to a wide range of symptoms, including depression, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, paranoia, panic attacks, loss of appetite, headaches, flashbacks, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide. These symptoms are debilitating and can drastically alter the lives of the soldiers affected by them. The loved ones of the men and women battling this disorder must also deal with the ramifications of the illness. They must come to terms with the fact that the family member or friend that went off to war is not the same person who came home.
Treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be difficult. The most common form of therapy for soldiers dealing with PTSD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This therapeutic modality focuses on understanding the circumstances you endured and working through them. Together with a therapist, the patient identifies how certain thoughts that he or she has about the traumatic events that they went through can be making their symptoms and stress level worse. Coping mechanisms will be developed and practiced until the patient feels comfortable using them in times of anxiety or heightened stress.
Medications also exist that can help soldiers dealing with PTSD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) are very effective at treating depression and anxiety. Soldiers need to be willing to take these medications regularly and follow up on a regular basis with a Psychiatrist.
Heroes to Heroes is a foundation that was created to provide spiritual healing, suicide prevention, and peer support for veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This program serves all combat veterans and offers a unique approach to treating the disorder. Heroes to Heroes coordinates therapeutic trips to Israel for combat veterans, during which they focus on spirituality and peer support. This intensive and structured program leads to deep emotional bonding between the survivors from America and with those Israeli soldiers experiencing similar issues. It helps these men and women realize that they are not alone in their suffering and it allows them to open up and begin the healing process.
Another disorder affecting combat veterans is known as Moral Injury. Moral injuries are events that soldiers participated in that defied their belief system, religious beliefs or moral code. Soldiers who have been engaged in combat, such as wounding or killing someone, or who witnessed such events, are often plagued by moral injuries. Like PTSD, symptoms of moral injury include anxiety, anger, and suicidal ideation.
What sets moral injury apart from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are the feelings of guilt and shame that surround the illness. Interventions to treat moral injuries are currently being tested. Therapeutic modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are being used in conjunction with specific treatment programs designed to target the triggers for the veteran’s moral injury.
Many soldiers report getting the most relief from their PTSD and Moral Injury symptoms by talking to others who have experienced similar circumstances. Peer support groups such as PTSD Anonymous provides a safe place for veterans to come together and speak about their experiences. This nationwide, community-based program has meetings throughout the country. While they do not replace traditional therapy, they are a wonderful resource for men and women who are suffering from military trauma.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are a serious health issue affecting our military veterans. TBI’s occur when the movement of the skull and brain occur at different rates due to the head being struck by something or striking something. The delicate brain tissue bangs against the hard bones of the skull, causing trauma. Active duty service members are at a much higher risk of sustaining a TBI then a civilian. Training activities and combat missions put the members of our armed forces in perilous situations that can cause these types of injuries to occur.
TBI’s are complex and have many different symptoms. People who have gone through a traumatic brain injury may experience cognitive impairment, paralysis of the hands, feet, arms or legs, abnormal speech, and emotional problems. These symptoms can be short term or can last for the rest of the person’s life.
Treatment of traumatic brain injuries includes rehabilitation and support services. During rehabilitation, the goal is to restore any lost functional abilities. These abilities can include the ability to talk, eat, and walk. Rehabilitation therapists, physiatrists and neuropsychologists work with these combat veterans to gain strength and mobility.
BrainLine is a national multimedia project created to provide resources and support to families living with traumatic brain injuries. They offer information and outreach services to people across the country. The Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery Support Program helps its clients stay connected to the resources they need to live with these injuries. Their website http://dvbic.dcoe.mil/tbi-recovery-support-program is filled with useful information and links.
Veteran suicides are occurring at a staggering rate of 22/day. It is vital that these men and women have access to the resources that can help them cope with the residual effects of the wars they fought. If you know a member of the military who you feel may be suffering from PTSD, a moral injury or a TBI, reach out to them.