“Many veterans struggle with memories of their experiences in the military.”
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can happen to anyone. However, this anxiety disorder has a significant effect on the veteran population in particular.
“Following military service, many veterans struggle with memories of their experiences in the military,” says Amanda M. Spray, PhD, psychologist at NYU Langone Health.
What Is PTSD?
“PTSD is a psychiatric condition that results following a traumatic event,” says Dr. Spray. “A traumatic event in psychiatry is defined as a situation in which one is confronted with real or threatened death, sexual violence, or other types of life-threatening situations.”
Often, this disorder happens to people who have lived through a life-threatening event themselves. However, it can also occur if you witness someone else experiencing a life-threatening event. It may even develop if you repeatedly come across details of a traumatic event.
Notably, not everyone who lives through a traumatic event develops PTSD. About 60 percent of U.S. men and 50 percent of women experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, yet about 8 percent actually develop PTSD, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
PTSD Among Veterans
Due to the traumatic experiences of combat, veterans have a very high risk of this disorder. “The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study from 1988 found that … 30 percent of Vietnam veterans had met criteria for PTSD at one point in their life,” says Collin Reiff, MD, psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health.
Similarly, between 2002 and 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs collected data that found “29 percent of veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom met criteria for PTSD,” says Dr. Reiff.
Additionally, there is some variation in PTSD rates in veterans based on different factors. Those on the front lines (who actively participate in combat) are more likely to experience this disorder than those in higher ranks. Additionally, about 23 percent of women have reported sexual assault during their time in the military, according to the VA. This can increase their risk of developing the disorder.
“If an individual believes they may have PTSD, my recommendation would be that they go to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist for a professional evaluation,” says Dr. Reiff. “There are a lot of treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder that are evidence-based and effective.”
Amanda M. Spray, PhD, is a psychologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City and a clinical associate professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.Collin Reiff
Collin Reiff, MD, is an addiction psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health and a clinical assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
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Following military service, many veterans struggle
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with memories of their experiences in the military,
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of the traumatic events that they may have witnessed,
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the traumatic events that they may have been involved in.
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It can really interfere with their functioning.
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It can interfere with their relationships with others,
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and sometimes, develop into a condition
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known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
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PTSD is a psychiatric condition
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that results following a traumatic event,
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and so a traumatic event in psychiatry is defined
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as a situation in which one is confronted with real
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or threatened death, sexual violence,
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or other types of life-threatening situations,
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serious bodily harm, for example.
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And these situations can result either
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in one experiencing this themselves,
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witnessing someone else experiencing this situation,
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or being repeatedly exposed to details
of a traumatic event.
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The prevalence of PTSD in the veteran population
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has varied over time.
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The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study
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from 1988 found that 15% of Vietnam veterans
at that time
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met full criteria for PTSD,
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and 30% of Vietnam veterans had met criteria
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for PTSD at one point in their life.
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The follow-up study to that which occurred in 2015
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found that 4.5% of Vietnam veterans
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met current diagnostic criteria for PTSD,
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and 17% had met criteria for PTSD at some point
in their life.
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Now these numbers are a little different
than the data
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that was collected by the Department of Veterans Affairs
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between 2002 and 2012.
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What the VA found is that 29% of veterans who served
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in Operation Enduring Freedom
and Operation Iraqi Freedom
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met criteria for PTSD.
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If an individual believes they may have PTSD,
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my recommendation would be that they go to see
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a psychologist or a psychiatrist
for a professional evaluation
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because there are a lot of treatments
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for post-traumatic stress disorder
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that are evidence-based and effective.
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- Contractual report of findings from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. Research Triangle Park, NC: Research Triangle Institute, 1988. (Accessed on July 15, 2020)
- How common is PTSD in veterans? Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (Accessed on July 15, 2020)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (Accessed on July 15, 2020)