PTSD in Veterans Essay

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The United States has been involved in wars from the beginning of its foundation. People fought and died defending their nation, enduring many traumas. Survivors are considered lucky as some would say, but I think otherwise. They may have lived to tell their stories, but the scars they walked away with, both physical and mental, caused grave damage to their lives. Some of these wounds cannot be seen, but consequently deprive them of living normal lives. As the nation took part in more wars throughout the centuries, more people became affected by a mental health problem known as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. With the rise of PTSD in combat veterans, it should require that any military personnel who served in a combat deployment seek PTSD treatment upon returning home.

For those who do not know what PTSD is, according to the Mayo Clinic, it is “a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it” (“Post-traumatic stress disorder”). There is a vast range of events that can fit into the “terrifying events” category, such as deaths, combat, and natural disasters, amongst many others. People who suffer from PTSD cannot live normal lives because they are haunted by an event that changed their lives drastically. They can experience symptoms such as recurring intrusive memories, avoidance behavior, or negative changes in thinking or mood (Corvalan and Klein). Specifically, they may experience nightmares or may get flashbacks reminding them of their trauma. Others can be triggered by their environment, such as fireworks, reminding a combat veteran of gunshots. Every person is different and, therefore may not always experience every symptom or may experience them years after the event. As Bolivar Flores, a U.S. Marine, described it, “PTSD is not a disease... it’s not an obstacle... it’s a normal reaction to an abnormal situation” (Homecoming: Conversations with PTSD). Unfortunately, traumatic events cannot be avoided and many people live with the scarring effects every day. For the many combat veterans who are exposed to these situations more often than not, it is imperative to understand the toll it takes on them.

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In particular, military personnel who partake in wars are exposed to the horrors of warfare. While fighting for our freedom, they endure disturbing experiences they will have to live with for the rest of their lives. In the most recent wars, there has been a rise in PTSD diagnosis in combat veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year” (How Common Is PTSD in Veterans). Although this percentage may not seem high, it is crucial to understand that veterans have sacrificed their mental health to ensure the safety of our nation. Combat PTSD is different due to the circumstances. “They must routinely wound and kill other humans based, not on deliberation or civilian legal standards, but on suspicion... They face risk, guilt, fear, anxiety, and repulsion as they witness their friends being killed or injured. Through it all, they are expected to display resilience” (Schaller 7). In combat, soldiers are stripped of their civilian identity and asked to do tasks that may be against their morals. They experience situations that normal civilians would not experience back home, all while having to keep composure to complete their mission. During the Korean War, “Some witnessed or experienced torture and saw executions of US prisoners by Korean and Chinese soldiers” (Corvalan and Klein). These men and women experienced these situations in real life. Situations that most people only see in movies. These are the battles combat veterans face while being on the frontline and defending their nation. Do they not deserve as much help as they can get when they return home? Comment by Murphy, Crystal: Maybe use the word in to replace of Comment by Murphy, Crystal: Maybe use Encounter instead of experience to eliminate redundant use of experience.

The horrors of combat are not the only things that can contribute to PTSD in veterans. Adding more stress to a stressful situation can make things worse. For example, what they are asked to do in the war, the location, and the type of enemy they face can make things worse (How Common Is PTSD in Veterans?). Although soldiers know they will be fighting in combat, they can never be certain of the outcome they will face. The duration and number of deployments they partake in can increase the likelihood that they have a hard time adjusting to civilian life when they return home (Reisman). If they spend a longer period in a warzone, then it is likely it will become their new “normal” and they will start to forget what it is like to live a civilian life. Living in fear can destroy their ability to sleep peacefully when they return home because their minds and bodies have adjusted to being ready for an enemy to attack. They can also run a higher risk of developing PTSD if they are younger, a minority, have a lower rank, have previous psychological problems, or lack support from friends and family (Reisman). The situation that most soldiers face is already hard as it is. They give up their freedom to defend ours. War is an uncertain world and one can never know for sure what lies ahead. If they are lucky enough to survive the atrocities of war and make it back home, then it is a must for each of them to have help dealing with the trauma they endured. Comment by Murphy, Crystal: Add coma after location

Once back home, if combat veterans start to experience any PTSD symptoms it is important to seek help from a professional, especially if it impedes them from living a normal life. According to the Mayo Clinic, “If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month, if they're severe... talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms from getting worse” (“Post-traumatic stress disorder”). Sadly, some of these heroes do not get the help they need and consequently, take their lives. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “The number of Veteran suicides exceeded 6,000 each year from 2008 to 2017 (Veteran Suicide Data 3). Suicide is a permanent decision that affects not only the person but everyone around them. As most people say, it is better to be safe than sorry. Even if there are no initial symptoms, it never hurts to talk to someone after going through a hard time. Soldiers are seen as strong and brave, but that does not mean they are not allowed to go through moments of weakness. They are human just like everyone else and should be treated as such. U.S. Marine Bolivar Flores points out that, “Some people think... ‘you shouldn’t have PTSD or... PTSD doesn’t exist or suck it up’... If it were that easy... people wouldn’t have these problems” (Homecoming: Conversations with PTSD). It is easy to make assumptions when you have not gone through a situation yourself, so it is not right to tell a combat veteran what they can and cannot feel or deny them of speaking about their traumas. The underlying cause for each suicide can vary and does not necessarily mean they had PTSD. It is stated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “It’s important to note that suicide is a complex issue with a multitude of contributing factors — and there is no single explanation for disparities in Veteran suicide” (Veteran Suicide Data). It may not have been PTSD alone, but when dealing with life, it is necessary to protect it at all costs just like they have protected ours. Comment by Murphy, Crystal: Comment by Murphy, Crystal: Add to in front of go

It is important to indicate that a soldier who goes to war will not automatically develop PTSD. They can experience nightmares and anxiety when remembering the past, but it is normal for this to happen. Seeking professional help can guide them with positive ways to cope with these symptoms. In 2019, the Department of Psychology at Saint Louis University conducted a study called “Impact of Engagement in Exercise on Sleep Quality Among Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptom” which carefully analyzes the correlation between exercise and sleep in veterans. The results from the study indicated that “engagement in exercise at baseline was associated with better sleep quality at one-year follow-up' (Weaver et al.). This is consistent with the known trend that exercising leads to better sleep. With this in mind, exercise can help PTSD patients who have difficulty sleeping. It is a highly accessible treatment since physical fitness is a key factor in military lifestyles. Furthermore, “the military should aim to provide thorough post-deployment screening for mental health problems before discharge and thereafter at a suitable interval to identify psychiatric problems. It must provide all necessary treatment, support services, family counseling, and employment assistance before soldiers return to civilian society” (Schaller 200). It should be common sense to prepare combat veterans to adjust to civilian life before their return. If preventative measures are taken then it is less likely for them to have a hard time adjusting to a normal life and developing PTSD. It benefits not only veterans but society as a whole to ensure their successful transition back so they can become productive members of society rather than troubled citizens.

“Prominent among those with PTSD, sleep disturbance and nightmares are among the top three PTSD symptoms commonly reported by treatment-seeking Veterans” (Weaver et al.). As pointed out before, it is normal to have nightmares or flashbacks after experiencing horrific events, but does experiencing these symptoms mean a person has PTSD? According to David Dobbs, author of “The Post-Traumatic Stress Trap”, the diagnosis of PTSD is too broad and flawed because it “may mistake soldiers’ natural process of adjustment to civilian life for dysfunction” (Dobbs). While this makes a good point because it is not certain that every soldier who fights in combat will develop a mental issue, it is also important to keep in mind that PTSD is real, and many veterans live with it and need help coping. Dobbs also continues by pointing out that “misdiagnosed soldiers receive the wrong treatments and risk becoming mired in a Veterans Administration system that encourages chronic disability” (Dobbs). The diagnosis of PTSD can be tricky because it is usually based on a question-and-answer technique and relies on the memory of each person. There are a lot of factors that can contribute to a misdiagnosis such as unreliable memory or reporting symptoms inaccurately. It is all based on the patient's words “but - consciously or not – patients are notoriously unreliable” so a better system needs to be in place that can alleviate this issue such as “a new voice analysis technique that can take the guesswork out of identifying a disorder” (“The Military Wants Better Tests for PTSD”). Yes, it is true the “defining criteria” are “too broad, leading to rampant overdiagnosis” as stated by Dobbs and many veterans may be diagnosed with PTSD while they have other mental health issues as well; therefore, lacking a proper treatment but a team of researchers at the New York University School of Medicine has been working on a solution to this problem. They have created a voice analysis technique that takes the guesswork out of identifying the disorder. The research institute that created Siri, created an algorithm that analyzes patient interviews and identifies auditory markers of PTSD that are otherwise imperceptible to the human ear. They narrowed down 18 relevant indicators that can be used to diagnose PTSD and based on those they were able to correctly identify patients with PTSD 89 percent of the time (“The Military Wants Better Tests for PTSD”). Although it is not 100 percent, they are still perfecting this system which could untimely solve the problem of misdiagnosis when asking patients questions about their traumatic experiences Comment by Murphy, Crystal: Maybe take out there are and just state PTSD is real and many veterans.

When all is said and done, the mental health and well-being of every combat veteran is important. The traumas veterans have endured have weighed heavy burdens on their lives and coming home to people telling them whether they have or do not have PTSD does not make it easier. One should not invalidate what a person feels just because they have an opinion on the cause. At the end of the day, no one can know the things veterans have been through, but themselves. Our job as a society and united nation is to help those war heroes who have endured so much to fight for us. With the right help and preventative measures, they can integrate back into society in a smoother transition, but we must lend a helping hand when they need it. We cannot stand by and let them figure it out alone or wait until it is too late to care. It is only right that we sacrifice a little bit of time and commit to helping those who have sacrificed already so much for us.

Works Cited

    1. Corvalan, Juan C, and David Klein. “PTSD: diagnosis, evolution, and treatment of combat-related psychological/psychiatric injury.” Missouri medicine vol. 108,4 (2011): 296-303.
    2. Dobbs, David. “The Post-Traumatic Stress Trap.” Scientific American, vol. 300, no. 4, Apr. 2009, pp. 64–69. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0409-64.
    3. Homecoming: Conversations with Combat PTSD. Prod. Ted Woods and Dan Munger. University of Southern California, MVA Collection, 2013. Ethnographic Video Online, Volume IV Database. Web.
    4. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 July 2018,
    5. Reisman, Miriam. “PTSD Treatment for Veterans: What's Working, What's New, and What's Next.” P & T: a Peer-Reviewed Journal for Formulary Management, MediMedia USA, Inc., Oct. 2016,
    6. Schaller, Barry R., and Todd Brewster. Veterans on Trial: The Coming Court Battles Over PTSD. Potomac Books, 2012. EBSCOhost,
    7. 'The Military Wants Better Tests for PTSD. Speech Analysis could be..' New York Times (Online), 22 Apr 2019. sirsissuesresearcher,
    8. “ Veterans Affairs.” How Common Is PTSD in Veterans?, 24 July 2018,
    9. “ Veterans Affairs.” Veteran Suicide Data, 14 Sept. 2018,
    10. Weaver, Terri L., et al. “Impact of Engagement in Exercise on Sleep Quality Among Veterans With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms.” Military Medicine, vol. 182, no. 9, Sept. 2017, pp. e1745–e1750. EBSCOhost, doi:10.7205/MILMED-D-16-00385.
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