Many veterans have trouble adjusting to civilian life; even serving on a base feels unreal after dealing with major combat situations. Combat soldiers may be gravely injured, witness the death of a battle buddy, or a group of battle buddies. Soldiers may be responsible for trying to save the life of a traumatically wounded soldier and may have experienced a friend dying in their arms.
After putting their life at risk to protect their country, experiencing the horrors of war, and coping with the death of friends, returning home after an unpopular war is difficult. Many people who should be welcoming these heroes and offering support add to the emotional trauma by turning against them for actions for which they weren’t responsible.
We aren’t prepared to cope with a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or killing others in combat. Even those from a military family learn that hearing war stories and actually fighting in a war are quite different. Many combat veterans develop combat-related PTSD as they are exposed to situations they aren’t prepared for and don’t know how to cope with. Rarely do soldiers in combat experience a single traumatic event; they never know when the next attack will come or when their next attack will be. They are in constant fear for their lives. Combat-related PTSD may not develop immediately; some symptoms may appear directly after the stress ends, while some may experience delayed expression, in which of symptoms don’t appear until at least 6 months following the event.
Co-occurring disorders are common among combat soldiers who develop a combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder. Unfortunately, military code dictates that soldiers are strong and can withstand anything, so combat soldiers in need of help for mental health issues may feel reluctant to ask for help. Additionally, many soldiers are re-traumatized as they opt for another tour of duty, feeling combat is all they know. Failure to immediately address PTSD complicates matters, and the additional traumatic events increase the likelihood of co-occurring disorders, including:
- Substance abuse
- Alcohol use
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Sleep-wake disorders
- Sexual dysfunctions
- Intermittent explosive disorder (IED)
Signs and Symptoms of Combat-Related PTSD
Combat soldiers experiencing combat-related PTSD will experience a wide array of symptoms and signs of the disorder. The primary categories of symptoms include:
Intrusive Symptoms: involve re-experiencing the events and are signs that the body is trying to come to terms with and process the events combat soldiers have experienced. These symptoms may reappear during times of active stress. As these symptoms are automatic and involve re-experiencing the trauma, a soldier may feel as though he or she is back in danger. These may include:
- Feeling in danger even though he or she is in a safe situation
- Flashbacks – involuntary, uncontrollable, distressing reminders and memories of the traumatic event
- Trauma-related dreams and nightmares of being back in combat
- Distressing reminders and memories of the traumas of combat
- Feelings of fear and anxiety as though he or she is back in the combat zone
Avoidant Symptoms: occur when a combat soldier draws inward or becomes emotionally numb in order to cope with the intensity of the feelings he or she is experiencing. Avoidant symptoms of combat-related PTSD may include:
- Loss of interest in any and all parts of daily life including once-enjoyed activities
- Active, extensive avoidance of anything that may remind the soldier of the combat experiences, including thoughts, activities, places, people, memories, feelings, and conversations
- Feeling detached from others, finding it a challenge to feel lovingly toward other people or experiencing any strong emotions whatsoever
- Feeling a strong disconnect from world around you and the things that happen to you
- Making an effort to restrict the emotions you feel
- Shutting down and becoming emotionally numb as a means to protect yourself
- Feeling of surreality of things around you
- Experiencing weird physical sensations
- Difficulty recalling important parts of the traumatic events
- Loss of ability to feel physical pain or other sensations
Hyperarousal Symptoms can make a combat soldier feel as though he or she is constantly on guard, on edge, and can lead to a variety of symptoms, including:
- Uncharacteristic, unexpected angry outbursts
- Exaggerated startle response that may trigger a memory or thought of the traumas
- Difficulty relaxing enough to sleep
- Hyper-vigilance or feeling as though there is a constant need to protect him or herself from danger
- Panic attacks
Combat-Related Trauma PTSD Effects
Due to the complexity of combat-related PTSD among soldiers; many of whom served several tours of duty – it is extremely important that treatment begins early. Without rehab, combat-related PTSD worsens, leaving the soldier feeling out of control and unable to cope with the overwhelming emotions he or she is experiencing. Some of the effects of untreated combat-related PTSD include:
Substance abuse and addiction is a common result of using drugs or alcohol as an attempt to self-medicate the symptoms of untreated PTSD. While drugs and alcohol may numb the soldier, it can lead to serious problems with addiction.
Interpersonal relationship problems may occur even as the most patient, loving friends and family try to reach the soldier. He or she may push away loved ones who try to help, often with anger and aggression.
Isolation: Men and women suffering from combat-related PTSD may distrust in others and mistrust their ability to remain in control around others; which can lead to social isolation or total isolation.
Suicidal ideation: If a soldier feelings as though he or she has no place in the world. the risk for suicide increases. The further the addition, interpersonal relationship problems, and isolation go, the more at-risk he or she is for death by suicide.
Death by cop: There have been many instances of “death by cop” wherein a combat veteran threatens a police officer with a weapon, leaving the officer no choice but to shoot him or her. Loved ones often feel responsible for the suicide or death by cop, however, when someone is in so much pain, they have no idea how to function normally in the world, and believe things will only get worse; they may become determined to end their life. The reality is that no one could have seen it coming.
Treatment Options for Combat-Related Trauma and PTSD at Our Center
The pain and suffering you are experiencing can get better – our residential rehab center can help. Your life and happiness is far more important than stigma against seeking rehab. Take the step and our nationally recognized PTSD treatment center will provide you with a safe environment and make you a part of our family. You have done your duty, put your own life at risk to protect those of all of us who have never gone to war. Let us say thank you by providing compassion and support during your darkest days, and by helping you begin to heal from all that you experienced.
Our residential rehab center offers many types of therapeutic techniques to help you process and come to terms with your combat experience, gain mastery over your reactions, and re-establish a sense of hope, personal efficacy, and control over your life. We use empirically-validated trauma therapeutic approaches for combat-related PTSD that include:
Prolonged exposure therapy: includes a number of treatments at our center each teaching relaxation and coping techniques. Depending on the technique, you may then be gradually guided through progressively stressful thoughts and memories related to your combat experience as you use your coping strategies or discuss memories of the event in an individual or group setting. This allows you to reconnect to emotions associated with your trauma and help you process these emotions as you work through the memories.
Dialectic behavior therapy (DBT): teaches mindfulness skills, ways to remain in the present, techniques for reestablishing relationships, methods to help you regulate your emotions, and skills for tolerating extreme emotions and distress.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT): works to help you adjust to your new roles in life and helping you learn to better handle interpersonal role disputes with significant others.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): We help you challenge and replace negative, painful, intrusive, uncontrollable thoughts related to your traumatic experiences such as shame, guilt or self-blame. Challenging feelings such as survivor’s guilt and replacing it with accurate beliefs can help you come to terms with the guilt you feel. Once you learn to restructure negative thought patterns to realistic, positive thoughts, you will have gained control over your thoughts and the effects they have on your emotions and behaviors.
Intensive family therapy: (Family Week) We know how crucial the support of loved ones is while you process your combat-related experiences and trauma. Family can play a huge role in helping you see the future as a bright, positive place. Loved ones may need to process and validate their own issues related to your time in combat and PTSD. Our rehab center staff will educate your loved ones about combat-related PTSD, the treatment, and your continuing care. Family support can teach you that others care about you as you are – without judgment – which can undermine negative thoughts you have about yourself.
Experiential therapy: traumatic memories are also processed through sensory modalities as memories that can trigger distress are often sensory-based. As many people who suffer from combat-related PTSD have experienced multiple traumas, there are many types of potential triggers. Some experiential treatments and activities we use include:
- Creative expression
- Art therapy
- Dramatic experiencing
- Sharing assignments and selected journal entries with the group
- Equine therapy
- Ropes courses
- Writing in journals
Continuing Care- What Comes Next?
As your time with us draws to a close, we’ll work closely with you and your loved ones to create a plan of care that meets your continued treatment needs. Many people with combat-related PTSD may opt to focus on their recovery during the day while slowly reintegrating back into their home environment. Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) are often the best choice for these people.
We are proud to offer a PHP program so you can continue working through your combat-related PTSD using many of the same therapeutic approaches we do in our residential program. Your PTSD treatment center team will help establish realistic goals and help you progress further in your treatment, helping you build the life you’ve always wanted.