The soldier had danced with us before, but tonight we were meeting in a new location and something was clearly wrong. He stood frozen at the door, his breath shallow, his eyes searching for a way out.
“It’s this room,” he said. “But I think it’ll be okay. There’s just this one door, but I can throw one of those chairs through the window to get out if I have to.”
This is the world tens of thousands of soldiers and veterans live in. Acute awareness of their environment and their own personal safety keeps them alive in extremely dangerous situations. Now back home, their PTSD puts them on high alert at a moment’s notice. And their loved ones struggle to understand the change in them and the many challenges they face.
They Tend to Just Stay away
In the audio clip above, a VA recovery professional talks about how “unknown variables” keep veterans with PTSD and TBI from participating in social activities put on by the community.
A growing problem
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, afflicts:
- One in five Iraqi war veterans
- Eleven percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan
- As many as ten percent of Gulf War veterans
- Nearly one-third of Vietnam veterans
Since 2000, there has been a steep rise in the number of veterans on disability for PTSD. Today, one in three veterans treated by the VA suffers from PTSD.
Impact of PTSD
PTSD can cause intense isolation and distress, including:
- re-experiencing the original trauma in flashbacks and nightmares
- feeling constantly tense and “on guard”
- inability to cope with daily living
- difficulty remembering things
- acute discomfort in group settings
- difficulty relating to your spouse, family, or friends
- feeling emotionally cut off from others
- difficulty sleeping
Veterans affected by PTSD face sobering statistics, from high unemployment, divorce, and suicide rates, to increased risk of substance abuse, depression, and homelessness. They also face other health problems related to ongoing stress and anxiety.
Traumatic Brain Injury
For those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are often linked. The Department of Defense calls TBI one of the “signature injuries” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan due to head injuries from improvised explosive devices. With symptoms that sometimes overlap those of PTSD, TBI can affect memory and emotions plus increase the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
A Ripple Effect
Effects of PTSD and TBI stretch beyond the individuals who are afflicted, affecting relationships with spouses, children, friends, and others. According to one researcher, “The harrowing combination of nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, hyperarousal, anger, and depression that plagues people with PTSD is … often overwhelming for family members, too.” Researchers cite PTSD as one of the mental health issues most likely to have a negative impact on relationships.
 “Helping Families Cope with PTSD,” Tori DeAngelis, American Psychological Association, Monitor on Psychology, January 2008, Vol. 39, No. 1.