“To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”
There are currently more than 18.2 million veterans in the United States according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of those, more than 9 million veterans are served by the VA every year. Over 1000 healthcare facilities and nearly 200 VA Medical Centers currently exist to serve Veterans in the U.S. It is estimated that PTSD affects 31% of Vietnam Veterans, 10% of Gulf War Veterans, 11% of Afghanistan Veterans, and 20% of Iraqi War Veterans. This translates to upwards of hundreds of thousands of Veterans potentially suffering from the effects of PTSD, with only a fraction seeking out and receiving the treatment they need.
PTSD is a serious mental health disorder that estimated to affect more than 7.7 million American adults every year. PTSD is not limited to service men and women, but given their exposure to traumatic scenarios and instances, it is not surprising to learn that this population is at a higher risk for developing PTSD. Veterans with PTSD experience flashbacks, avoidance issues, trouble sleeping, and many more symptoms related to trauma they experienced while deployed.
Avoidance is very common among survivors of trauma. It is natural for victims to avoid thinking about painful feelings and emotions related to stressful events. However, avoidance can get to the point where it starts to interfere with daily life. Emotional avoidance occurs when a person intentionally blocks out the onset of negative feelings and emotions. Behavioral avoidance occurs when people intentionally avoid circumstances and reminders of the traumatic event. Both behaviors are natural, but they are ultimately unhealthy because the person remains trapped by their fear and never learns to cope and move on with their life.
The anniversary of the date of a traumatic event can sometimes exacerbate symptoms of PTSD when the date comes around. For example, September 11th could be a triggering time of the year for survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, or for the families of victims who lost their lives. The way trauma is ingrained in the memory means that even small reminders such as the date can bring about memories, thoughts, and feelings of the situation when it first occurred. This is because the body is doing its best to give us information that will help it stay safe, such as when a rape survivor becomes fearful of passing a stranger in the night.
Sensitivity to New Situations
Traumatic events create a wide range of reactions across individuals and can even make responses to new stressful situations even worse. For example, becoming stressed by an event could exacerbate PTSD symptoms such as heavy breathing,insomnia, or irritation. They may experience flashbacks and old memories when faced with stressful situations.
Aging Veterans and PTSD
Memories of wartime experiences can make indelible reminders in the Veteran’s brain that last long after they have served in combat. Many senior Veterans find that PTSD symptoms may manifest themselves as many as 50 years after the wartime service. These include having nightmares, recollections of the event, avoiding situations, becoming withdrawn, being easily startled or upset, and having a loss in interest for hobbies they once held dear.
PTSD symptoms may also worsen with age. For example, retiring from the workforce can leave some senior Veterans with idle time, no exercise, and little socialization, which could lead to the onset of symptoms. Many PTSD sufferers use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate for their disorder. If you stop drinking later in life due to health reasons after using alcohol to treat PTSD, your symptoms may suddenly rear their head at full strength.
History of PTSD Among Veterans
Early attempts at cataloguing psychological symptoms from military trauma date back to ancient times and reached American prominence in the Civil War. “Soldier’s Heart” was marked as a psychological side effect characterized by rapid pulse, anxiety, and difficulty breathing. In 1919, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th “Armistice Day”.
Around this time, symptoms of PTSD were known as “shell shock” and were thought to be caused by impact to the brain caused by loud explosions and gunfire. “War neuroses” was another term used at this time. During World War II, the terminology and diagnoses became known as Combat Stress Reaction, or “battle fatigue” and “combat exhaustion”, which accounted for almost half of WWII discharges.
In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association created the first DSM designation for a PTSD-related disorder. Called “Gross Stress Reaction”, this disorder was based on negative reactions to trauma that lasted for longer than a period of 6 months. PTSD was added in 1980 to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Vietnam War Veterans, Holocaust survivors, and sexual trauma victims.
In the most recent update to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, PTSD is no longer classified as an anxiety disorder. PTSD is its own category and includes four different types of symptoms. Including:
- Reliving the Traumatic Event
- Negative Changes in Beliefs and Feelings
- Hyper Arousal
Organizations and Resources to Help Veterans Suffering from PTSD:
VA Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255
VA Vet Center Program http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/
This program offers different services for veterans and families of veterans, with 300 community locations across the United States.
PTSD Foundation of America www.ptsdusa.org 877-717-7873
The PTSD Foundation of America is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping combat veterans and their families cope with the realities of PTSD.
Department of Defense’s Center of Excellence 24/7 Outreach Center for Psychological Health and TRaumatic Brain Injury 1-866-966-1020
Warrior Care Network Wounded Warrior Project: Warrior Care Network This collaboration between Wounded Warrior Project and its academic medical partners connects Veterans living with PTSD, TBI, and other related conditions to clinical services.
At Landmark Senior Living, we care about those who served our country and those who continue to do so. That’s why we’re unveiling a new campaign to help senior veterans and their spouses unlock the benefits available to them through the Aid and Attendance Program offered by the VA. If you’re looking for assisted living benefits for Veterans, visit Landmark Senior Living in Fall River.