Every veteran has heard about PTSD. The commonly held medical guidelines specify that in order to be diagnosed with PTSD, a veteran must have experienced some sort of trauma. This trauma is largely defined as violence in a war zone.
The last decade has shown incredible increases in the social, medical, and scientific understanding and acceptance of the reality of PTSD. If you ever watch an episode of MASH, you’ll occasionally find the hard-nosed Major Frank Burns mocking the idea of “battle fatigue.” Thankfully, we now know a much greater amount of the truth of psychological stress and trauma, and the effects this can have upon the human psyche.
Because of this acceptance, we are often quick to attribute any mental health problems that a veteran has to PTSD, given that they have served in a war zone. In doing this, we are forgetting that many thousands of military men and women have served honorably and with pride, and were never deployed. These veterans do not deserve any less attention or respect.
Military life can be extremely stressful, especially to the many young volunteers who join right out of high school. In the civilian world, there are restrictions, precautions, and other barriers to prevent an overload of stress on the young adult population. Many 18-20 year olds attend college as the first majorly consequential thing they do that includes independence from their parents. Because of the high level of mental, social, and personal development during this time, colleges have guidance counselors, student clubs, study groups, walk in clinics and support centers, confidential help phone lines, and some are even going to the next level with free yoga, relaxation, nutrition, and well-being classes. All designed to make a student’s college endeavor as stress free and beneficial as possible. All these precautions are in place for the young adults of America.
Conversely, when these same 18-20 year olds proudly choose to enter military service, they are instead subjected to intense mental and physical stress, high group learning curves, and little to no rest time. The necessity of this is not up for debate. If these young volunteers are not taught to handle this kind of lifestyle of constant stress and sensory overload, they cannot be expected to perform in combat and come out alive. So how is this stress any less relevant to these service men and women than those who serve in active combat zones. Yes, the actual stressors are different, but the individual relevance and effect should not be overlooked.
Veterans may find that they are being told they do not have PTSD because they have not served in a combat zone. This may be extremely confusing when the veteran finds himself (or herself) having to cope with many of the same symptoms as a combat veteran.
There is another “version” of PTSD that may help to explain this phenomenon. Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is similar in symptoms, but the causes are the difference. C-PTSD results from prolonged exposure to very high levels of stress. Long term medical research says that 92% of people with C-PTSD have nearly identical symptoms as PTSD. Because of this similarity, the DSM (Diagnostics and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association) does not add C-PTSD as an individual diagnosis, but instead treats it as an extra complication to PTSD.
If the VA has denied any PTSD claims, you may consider the possibility of C-PTSD when you appeal your claim. The VA recognizes C-PTSD, but only as a function of PTSD.
The major component of a diagnosis of C-PTSD is that the individual has suffered a prolonged time (several months to many years) under the complete control of another. This control is subjective and mostly depends on the individual’s perception of the absoluteness of control. Other symptoms, in addition to those of PTSD include variations in emotional control, especially that which leads to changes in self-perception. Also included are changes in modes of consciousness, social relationship abilities and tendencies, and changes in the individual’s spiritual belief foundation.
Because of the lack of individual recognition, it may be hard to find treatment from the VA if you believe you suffer from C-PTSD. The best option is to find psychological help elsewhere. There are many civilian psychologists and psychiatrists who were once soldiers themselves, or have a lot of experience in helping military veterans. Seek out one of these if you feel they would understand more than a civilian doctor who does not have this experience.
In addition to finding professional help, it may be beneficial to find different methods to deal with individual symptoms as they arise. This page from the National Center for PTSD has a list of possible coping methods for different types of symptoms. Many are the same as PTSD.
Photo thanks to bottled_void under creative common license on Flickr.