Recognizing And Treating PTSD In Soldiers

In many circles, the subject I am writing about today is taboo. It seems when the subject of PTSD is brought up, the subject gets changed quite fast. PTSD stands for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. It was at one time called shell shock, because it was primarily associated with soldiers who had been involved in direct warfare.

PTSD has been discovered to affect people other than just soldiers. Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event in their life could have PTSD. But, it is still those who have served in military wars and battles who suffer from this terrible disorder the most. The majority of the soldiers who have PTSD know it, but they will not admit it, because they have been led to believe that only the weak suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder.

As a commander, chaplain, platoon leader, family member, employer, fellow soldier, or just a friend, you should know the signs of PTSD. This is why, in today’s post, I am going to delve into a taboo subject. We will learn about recognizing and treating PTSD in soldiers. By knowing this, you may be able to save one or more lives. You see, PTSD has been a deadly killer on 2 levels. It kills by suicide as soldiers cannot take the pain anymore and end their lives. The 2nd level is murder.

I strongly recommend you watch the movie: American Sniper, if you haven’t already. It was about Navy Seal Chris Kyle who suffered from PTSD, but found ways to overcome the disorder. While trying to help other soldiers who were suffering, he was shot and killed by one of them.

It is high time that anyone associated with soldiers coming home from any military deployment understand the signs so help can be attained. Just think of the outcomes if someone, anyone would have confronted PTSD with:

  • Issac Sims who was killed by Kansas City Swat Team members. Issac served in Iraq from 2008 to 2010.

  • Kenneth Stafford whose wife called Sparks, Nevada police saying her husband who was diagnosed with PTSD was suicidal. The cops killed him.

  • Andrew Brannon who was a Vietnam vet was given the death penalty for killing a police officer. Andrew was also diagnosed with PTSD, but that did not stop the State of Georgia from killing him. He was given a lethal injection in January of 2015.

When I researched some statistics, I was overwhelmed. The Veterans Administration declared that current or former military personnel account for 20% of the suicides. The math says that amounts to approximately 7,000 per year. When you really pull out the calculator, that means for every combat related death, 25 more commit suicide.

The Department of Defense had the Institute of Medicine perform a study. When the report on PTSD came back, it was discovered that 13-20% of veterans have, or will contract PTSD.

The Veterans Administration has made long strides toward PTSD treatment, but they need our help too. Not every soldier is going to walk into a VA hospital and say, “help me please; I think I have PTSD.” It is up to people recognizing the signs and helping that soldier or veteran get the help they need.

Possible Symptoms Of PTSD

If you know that a soldier has been deployed to a zone that was in a chaotic state, keeping an eye on his/her state of being is wise. There are recognizable symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder a person should watch for. They consist of:

  • Reliving the trauma. Many veterans have experienced flashbacks, nightmares and hallucinations. These can be brought on by subtle occurrences (the anniversary of being deployed, meeting someone who was once on the side of the enemy, firecrackers, etc…).

  • Detachment. If the soldier is avoiding people in general, it could be a sign of PTSD. Did they enjoy certain activities before deployment, but now do not participate in those activities? It could be PTSD.

  • Easily angered. Do small, unimportant issues cause anger in the individual? It could be PTSD.

  • Insomnia. This can go along with the nightmares. The person may not sleep for fear of having nightmares.

  • Easily startled. Does the person jump and get startled easy? This could also be a sign of PTSD.

  • Loss of concentration. If a person has a difficult time concentrating on tasks at hand, it could be a symptom of posttraumatic stress.

Physical symptoms

There are physical symptoms associated with PTSD too. If a person runs high blood pressure, tense muscles, nausea or diarrhea, it could be a result of PTSD.

What to do if you believe they have PTSD

There are 3 words you need to consider before confronting someone with possible PTSD. They are respect, care and understanding. If you use all 3 of these when talking with the person, the odds are they will listen to you. It is best to ask them to go with you to a psychotherapist.

The Department of Defense has recognized PTSD as a huge problem. There is financial and medical help for those who are dealing with PTSD, but it helps to have a friend or confidant helping to do the paperwork and be there for support.

These are some other things you can do to be helpful:

  • Do not judge or belittle the person.

  • Always show them respect.

  • Exercise with the person.

  • Use positive words and actions.

  • Be patient.

  • Give them space.

  • Listen…remember, we have 2 ears and 1 mouth. Listen twice as much as speaking.

Therapy and medication

Doctors use a variety of measures to help those who suffer with PTSD. Antidepressant medications are usually used, but should only be taken as prescribed. It has been discovered that the best treatment for PTSD is therapy. Therapy sessions can come in many formats. They include:

  • Group therapy. It can help just knowing that other individuals are experiencing the same issues with posttraumatic stress. Once the person realizes they are not a “lone soldier,” they can adapt easier.

  • Family therapy. This is a wise therapy when a person with PTSD has a family who are trying to love and care for the person.

  • Cognitive behaviorial therapy. This involves the patient recognizing and changing patterns which can be damaging.

  • Psychodynamic therapy. The examination of values and emotions that were caused by the trauma.

  • Exposure therapy. This therapy must be done in a controlled and safe environment. It involves reliving the trauma with the use of sounds or pictures. This type of therapy is the best PTSD treatment, but can also be highly dangerous.

Final thoughts

Personally, I believe that more can be done the moment soldiers come home from deployment, but that is completely in the hands of the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense. We as commanders, friends and family can do our part. We need to learn all we can about PTSD and take the needed steps to help those who have served.

Do you have PTSD symptoms? Do you know someone who does? It is not a situation to be embarrassed about. It can happen to anyone. Seek help! There are ways to solve the stress. You can live a normal life. I have known those who have been able to handle the PTSD issue, and I have known those who didn’t make it through it. Lets all do what we can to help, because these soldiers have helped us stay free and safe.

Feel free to leave any comments and questions below. I don’t have all the answers, but I will do my best to find them. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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