Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common psychological health concern that can happen after any traumatic event on or off the battlefield. Common reactions include trouble sleeping, nightmares, flashbacks, feelings of isolation, self-blame, irritability, avoiding reminders of a traumatic event and others. Fortunately, if you or someone you know is experiencing PTSD, there are many effective treatment options. It is important to talk to a health care provider as soon as possible. This is especially true if any of your symptoms last more than a month or affect your daily life.
A health care professional can determine if your symptoms are from PTSD or something else. Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD. About 3 percent of active duty service members are coping with PTSD. Among veterans, estimates vary widely. Some studies show that more than 13 percent of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan screened positive for PTSD. Other studies estimate as many as 20-30 percent cope with PTSD. If you are having difficulties, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center or call the Military Crisis Line. They can help point you in the right direction.
For those who do develop PTSD, getting treatment helps. During your visit, a health care professional will talk with you about your trauma and symptoms. Then, they will work with you to develop a custom treatment plan that is best for you.
There are many treatment options available for PTSD. Because no two people experience PTSD the exact same way, it is important to be open and honest with your health care provider. There are [PDF 318KB] resources available to help you prepare to talk about your symptoms. [PDF 318KB] Questions you may want to ask your provider include:
- What is PTSD and do I have it?
- What are my treatment options?
- What can I expect from treatment?
If your health care provider determines you have PTSD, some common and effective treatments [PDF 318KB] they may suggest include:
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy: You will write down or speak out loud about trauma and confront traumatic memories until they are less painful.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy: You will learn skills to change problematic beliefs, thoughts, and feelings following one or more traumatic experiences.
- Stress Inoculation Training: You will learn breathing and muscle relaxation skills and practice controlling your thoughts.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: You will focus on sounds and alternate eye and hand movements as you remember a trauma.
Your provider may prescribe medications as part of your treatment plan. It is important to take all medications exactly as directed. Your provider may also suggest Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). CAM may include:
- Meditation or mindfulness practices
- Breathing techniques
Reaching Out Makes a Difference
Getting help for any psychological health concern, including PTSD, keeps you mission ready and sets you up for career success. For example, watch the video profile of Retired Army Maj. Jeff Hall who began treatment for PTSD after reaching out to his commanding officer. Reaching out is a sign of strength. If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants. Call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also see a list of key psychological health resources here.
- Deployment Health Clinical Center. (2017). Mental Health Disorder Prevalence among Active Duty Service Members in the Military Health System, [PDF 3.8MB] Fiscal Years 2005–2016.
- Fisher, M.P. (2014) “PTSD in the U.S. military, and the politics of prevalence.” Social Science and Medicine 115C: 1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.05.051
- Management of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Work Group. (2017). “VA/DoD clinical practice guideline for the management of posttraumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder.” Washington, DC: Veterans Health Administration, Department of Defense.
- National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. (2018) “Understanding PTSD and PTSD Treatment.”
- Psychological Health Center of Excellence. (2017) Treatment.
- Reisman, M. (2016) “PTSD treatment for veterans: What’s working, what’s new, and what’s next.” Pharmacy and Therapeutics 41(10), 623-627, 632-634.
- Schuman, D. (2016). Veterans' experiences using complementary and alternative medicine for posttraumatic stress: A qualitative interpretive meta-synthesis. Social Work in Public Health, 31(2), 83-97. doi:10.1080/19371918.2015.1087915