In WWI it was shell shock, in WWII battle fatigue. Korean War veterans were diagnosed with war neurosis and Vietnam veterans with post-Vietnam syndrome.
Whatever you call it, Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), as it’s now known, has affected soldiers for centuries, with symptoms ranging in severity from insomnia and nervousness to nightmares and debilitating social anxiety.
There’s nothing black and white about PTS, making it difficult to diagnose and challenging to treat. Compounding the problem, there is a lingering stigma around the condition, at least among service members, who would probably call it combat stress instead of PTS, explains former marine Michael Andrews.
He attributes his PTS symptoms less to one traumatic event and more to the overall experience of combat—deploying six consecutive times and grieving the death and injuries of many friends.
“Every time service members deploy, we have to put together casualty packets, which include directions from the nearest airport to our next-of-kin’s residence, a will, and even an obituary,” Andrews says.
He says, this, in addition to talking with loved ones about your potential death, takes its toll and has a lasting effect.
Author and speaker Lt Col. David Grossman describes the ambiguity of Post Traumatic Stress:
“PTSD is not like being pregnant. Pregnancy is a yes/no, binary equation; either you are or you aren’t. PTSD is like being overweight. Most of us have a couple pounds we can do without, but some people are 500 pounds overweight, and it’s going to kill them any day now.”
Despite the vast gray area, issues associated with PTS affect 7.7 million adults in the United States, mostly veterans. But, there is hope and help.
Here are some organizations working hard to help people with PTS and their families.
afterdeployment.org shares mental wellness resources for service members, veterans, and military families on topics like PTS, traumatic brain injury, suicide prevention and much more.
Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury offers support, authoritative information and resources 24/7 to service members, veterans, military families, and caregivers.
National Resource Directory is a web portal that connects wounded warriors, service members, veterans, their families and caregivers with support services.
Real Warriors Campaign is a multimedia public education campaign that encourages service members and veterans with invisible wounds to seek help. In addition to raising awareness, the campaign provides resources to help overcome barriers to care for invisible wounds, like PTS and traumatic brain injury.
WarriorCare.mil is a blog that provides wounded, ill, injured and transitioning service members information on programs, initiatives and support.