Recognizing and Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) strikes many veterans who have returned home after serving in military combat. However, PTSD is not always immediately evident; in fact, it may take years before symptoms emerge. When treating veterans, it’s important to be aware of and looking for signs of PTSD, as it’s likely that the patient will present with a medical complaint, not a combat-related stress or psychiatric complaint. In fact, it is the primary care physician, not a mental health professional, who most frequently identifies PTSD.
Co-morbidities with PTSD include
- Auto-immune disorders
- Chronic pain, such as arthritis, headache or low back pain (up to three times more likely with PTSD)
- Dermatological problems
- Domestic violence
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Gynecological problems
- Hypertension and coronary artery disease
- Sleep problems
- Substance abuse
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
PTSD is a significant health risk for veterans, with healthcare costs up to 11% higher, suicide rates up to four times higher, and quality of life scores lower than those of civilians. In addition, recent research shows a correlation between a PTSD diagnosis and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Rural veterans, in particular, face greater difficulty in accessing healthcare and veterans’ benefits and are prone to higher levels of economic problems, substance abuse and poor family functioning.
How you can help
- Evaluate and treat sleep problems.
- Medications prescribed for PTSD sufferers depend on symptoms presented and often include sleep aides, SSRIs, atypical antipsychotics and mood stabilizers.
- Therapy, whether individual or group, is often helpful. Therapy for PTSD is available through the Veterans Administration (VA), Vet Centers and civilian therapists.
- Encourage veterans to enroll in the VA if they have not already. This will ensure future service-related problems are covered.
- Inform the veteran that every county has a Veteran Service Officer to assist in any need, especially in providing guidance in working with the VA system.
- Ask veterans where they are in the deployment cycle and become aware of the different stages.