On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four commercial jets in a coordinated attack against the United States. Two of the jets intentionally flew into the World Trade Center towers and a third flew into the Pentagon. Upon learning of the attacks, passengers on the fourth jet launched a counterattack, and brought down the jet in rural Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed. Soon after, President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan to capture those responsible for the attacks.
The U.S. military has been at war for over 18 years.
The Veterans Administration (VA) is charged with helping military members and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events that cause PTSD include:
- Terrorist attacks
- Sexual or physical assault
- Serious accidents
- Natural disasters, such as a fire, hurricane, flood, tornado or earthquake
Four symptoms of PTSD include:
#1 Reliving the event
Unwelcome memories and obtrusive thoughts can pop up at any time. The thoughts are real and scary, and are called a flashback. A loud noise (i.e. car backfire, fireworks) can bring back unwelcome memories of gunfire for a combat veteran.
One common PTSD symptom is avoiding places and certain people that bring back memories of a traumatic event. A combat veteran may avoid crowds like shopping malls because it feels dangerous to be around so many people.
#3 Having more negative thoughts and feelings than before
Veterans may feel sad, numb and/or lose interest in things they previously enjoyed, like spending time with friends. The veteran may feel the world is dangerous and no one can be trusted.
#4 Feeling on edge
Hyperarousal makes someone with PTSD feel jittery, like it’s hard to relax. Veterans with PTSD may have trouble sleeping or concentrating, or feel like they are always on the lookout for danger.
Even just falling asleep was tough. The minute I would start dozing off I would get a surge of adrenaline or anxiety and would wake up. And even when I did fall asleep, I would wake up with night terrors or sweats,” said Stacy L. Pearsall, US Air Force, 1998–2008.
The VA has made progress helping those with PTSD. Trauma-focused therapies used by the VA include:
#1 Prolonged exposure therapy (PET)
Combat veterans with PTSD avoid places and things that remind them of the trauma.
This can help you feel better in the moment,” explains the VA’s National Center for PTSD, “but in the long term it can keep you from recovering.”
In PET, veterans expose themselves to the thoughts, feelings and situations that they have been avoiding.
#2 Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
It is common for those suffering from PTSD to have negative thoughts and feelings that the world is dangerous. CPT helps identify and change those thoughts. Changing how one thinks about the trauma can help change how he or she feels.
#3 Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
Those with PTSD react negatively to the memory of their traumas. In EMDR, the veteran focuses on specific eye movements while they talk about the trauma. This helps the brain work through the traumatic memories and can change how one reacts to memories of trauma.
PTSD affects certain chemicals in the brain that help manage stress. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are medications that can help raise the level of these chemicals in the brain to help veterans feel better.
Additional Ways to Assist Veterans Suffering From PTSD
Workforce development is also essential to help combat veterans transition from combat to the civilian workforce sector. Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment provides veterans with job training, employment accommodations, resume development and job seeking skills coaching. In addition, the VA can assist veterans in starting their own small businesses.
The emotional numbness … will just tear away all of the relationships in your life, you know, if you don’t learn to unlock them [and] get those emotions out,” explained Sarah C. Humphries, US Army, 1994–2012.
There are almost 38,000 homeless veterans in America. When veterans do not receive the proper care, some fall through the cracks and become homeless. The VA Homeless Veterans program motto is “No veteran should be without a place to call home.”
The focus is threefold:
- Conduct coordinated outreach and proactively seek out combat veterans in need of assistance
- Connect homeless and at-risk combat veterans with housing solutions, healthcare, community employment services and other required support
- Collaborate with federal, state and local agencies; employers; housing providers, faith-based and community nonprofits; and others to expand employment and affordable housing options for veterans experiencing homelessness
Yoga and meditation are clinically proven to reduce stressors for veterans who suffer from PTSD. The VA, in concert with non-profits, offers yoga and mindful meditation to reduce stress.
“In classes we make a commitment to joy,” explains Jeanette Watson Sanger, a laughter yoga teacher who has worked extensively with veterans. “The idea is to fake it till you make it! It is very healthy; laughing engages 85% of your lungs.”
Treatment has turned my life completely around. I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin,” said Jeremiah Civil, US Marine Corps, 2001–2005.
About the Author
Dr. Judy Riffle owns Santa Cruz Grants & Consulting, LLC, and has raised over 18 million dollars for various schools, school districts, and nonprofits. Funded and managed grants include school formula grants such as Title I, Title IV, IDEA Basic, and Title III LEP. Funded competitive grants include: McKinney-Vento Supplemental Education for Homeless Children & Youth, State Tutoring, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, school improvement, CA Community Colleges Basic Skills and Student Outcomes Transformation, New York Learning Technology, Arizona Pilot Program on School Emergency Readiness, USDA Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program, USDA Distance Learning & Telemedicine Program, Baptist Community Ministries, Safeway Foundation, Tucson Electric Power, Cox Charities, Del E. Webb Foundation, and Arizona Disabled Veteran Foundation. Dr. Riffle is a former teacher, education specialist, new teacher mentor, and administrator with degrees in special education, Deaf education, and educational leadership. Besides being a member of the Grant Professionals Association, she also serves as Vice-President for the Green Valley Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce.
Learn more about PTSD and its treatment options:
Learn about the communities committed to helping veterans transition back into civilian life: