Unless you’ve actually gone through combat as a soldier, there’s no way to fully comprehend the emotional toll and stress that a veteran must live with every day. That toll increases immeasurably if the veteran has been wounded or has suffered debilitating psychological trauma from their tour of duty.

The loss of limbs, eyesight, or traumatic brain injuries are easy to spot. But many times, the wounds aren’t visible to anyone else. That does not make them any less serious for the vet or his or her family members. Regardless of the injury, veterans face some unique disabling challenges they must overcome.

Whether physical wounds are present or not, quite possibly, the biggest challenge is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, better known as PTSD. PTSD can develop after a veteran has gone through a life threatening situation, such as active combat or witnessing the death of another soldier in a combat setting. It’s been estimated that about 30 percent of Vietnam vets developed PTSD and anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of veterans from Gulf War actions in the Middle East. Some evidence suggests that PTSD may run in families and based on available data, woman are more prone to develop PTSD than men.

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At its core, PTSD is often characterized by a soldier or a veteran who cannot stop thinking about what happened to them on the field of battle. Their response to an extreme threat becomes stuck in “full activation” mode and they are unable to dial back on a response that may not warrant becoming fully engaged in defending themselves. Anger and threats cause certain chemical and physical reactions in the body, and for someone with PTSD, this can become a normal state.

This makes it virtually impossible for them to relax and they avoid people and places that remind them of their trauma. PTSD sufferers often startle easily, always appear to be on guard and suffer from flashbacks and nightmares. 

PTSD also manifests itself in other ways as well. PTSD is often linked with depression and chronic worry, intense bouts of guilt and when the mind and body shut down, sufferers can end up feeling emotionally numb. Anhedonia, which is the loss of interest in things that a person used to enjoy, is also a common symptom. 

These emotional and psychological problems can lead to physical issues for PTSD sufferers. Medical professionals report seeing higher instances of cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological symptoms in those who have been diagnosed with PTSD.

Because of all these factors, attempting to dull the disabling trauma of PTSD can often times lead to severe drug and alcohol abuse.

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Fortunately, treatments for PTSD do exist. The National Institute of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have approved Zoloft and Paxil for use to lessen PTSD. Both are anti-depressants and come with some side effects such as headaches and nausea, drowsiness or sleeplessness, and an agitated or jittery feeling. If other psychological disabilities exist, such as schizophrenia, doctors may prescribe other medications such as Prozac or Celexa.

In many cases, PTSD may coexist with depression, however depression may exist as a separate condition for disabled veterans. Depression is characterized by sadness lasting more than a few days. It can impact the ability to perform routine functions in your life and can impact sleeping and eating habits. Thoughts of suicide are also common with veterans suffering from depression.

Recognizing the severity of PTSD on veterans and their families, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs has created a National Center for PTSD. It is dedicated to research and educating the public on issues surrounding PTSD and serves as a clearinghouse for the latest findings on PTSD, offering veterans and their families access to resources to help them recover from PTSD. It can be accessed here.