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PTSD in Veterans of the Iraq War: Everything You Should Know

PTSD in Veterans of the Iraq War: Everything You Should Know

Many Veterans come out of their deployments suffering from PTSD. However, many people still do not know its severity and effect on Combat Veterans’ lives after active duty.

A PTSD diagnosis affects more than just the Veteran’s personal life and individual well-being. It can affect their families and loved ones. Many Veterans need help transitioning to everyday life when they get out of the service, only to find a lack of support and treatment.

The Iraq War left many Veterans with PTSD who still feel the effects today.

Key Takeaways:

  • You’ll know what PTSD is
  • You’ll learn what the symptoms of PTSD are
  • You’ll understand the effect the Iraq War has had on Veterans
  • You’ll know what the best forms of PTSD treatment are 
  • You’ll learn how to file a claim for Veterans’ benefits to assist with obtaining mental health care

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder with a high prevalence in people who have experienced a traumatic event. These traumatic events can include natural disasters, war, or sexual assault.

In the past, many did not understand the seriousness of PTSD and how it affected War Veterans’ lives. However, it is now recognized as a severe mental health problem that can even affect Veterans physically.

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

Many U.S. Military Veterans begin to have symptoms of PTSD shortly after experiencing a traumatic event. However, it is normal not to experience PTSD until years after a traumatic event. The timing of symptoms differs for each Veteran.

Medical professionals use a PTSD checklist divided into four different categories: 

Intrusion:

  • Flashbacks
  • Bad dreams or nightmares
  • Involuntary memories

Avoidance: 

  • Avoiding people, places, or things that remind the Veteran of the traumatic experience
  • Avoiding any thought or feeling that reminds the Veteran about the traumatic event
  • Avoiding any talk about the traumatic event 

Alteration in cognition and mood:

  • Negative thoughts or feelings
  • Inability to remember important details of the traumatic event
  • Ongoing fear
  • Feelings of guilt and shame
  • Less interest in activities that Veterans previously enjoyed
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Feeling isolated from others 

Alteration in arousal and reactivity:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Behaving recklessly
  • Behaving in a self-destructive manner
  • Easily startled
  • Having difficulty concentrating or sleeping

For someone in the armed forces to be diagnosed with PTSD, they will have to experience these symptoms for at least a month. The symptoms also have to interfere with the Veteran’s daily life to be diagnosed with PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD often go along with other conditions for military service members after they return to civilian life. PTSD has a high rate of comorbidity with other health issues and mental disorders, such as depression, physical health problems, and substance abuse. 

The Iraq War and PTSD

War leaves many Veterans with unforgettable memories. The trauma they are exposed to interrupts their sense of reality and can leave them permanently scarred.

The two operations referred to regarding the Iraq War are Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Though many Veterans have been home for years since their time in the service, the negative effects of the war have not gone away.

Veterans that served in OEF/OIF conflicts have high rates of PTSD. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that around 11-20% of military personnel who served in OEF/OIF have or had PTSD. Many of them are at risk of other mental health problems as well.

PTSD was diagnosed in Veterans who served in OEF/OIF a few months after the conflict rather than immediately after.

OIF is the acronym particularly for the Iraq War, while OEF refers to the war in Afghanistan. The whole length of the Iraq War was from 2003 until 2011, when U.S. forces pulled their troops.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans were at high risk of PTSD because of the multitude of combat stressors they faced during their time in the service. However, a high risk of PTSD has also been observed in Vietnam Veterans, Gulf War Veterans, and many other groups of military service members.

Many of the soldiers that were deployed to Iraq experienced intense combat. Around 90 percent of them reported that they were shot at and many others recalled handling dead bodies and knowing fellow service members who were injured or killed.

This is an incredibly high percentage of soldiers facing traumatic experiences, leading to PTSD.

Though OIF and OEF Veterans face the risk of PTSD, they face the risk of many other mental health problems as well. Depression, in particular, affects many Veterans returning from these operations, from anywhere between 3-25%.

Veterans returning from these operations are also predisposed to substance abuse to cope with the symptoms of mental illness.

What Treatments Are Best for PTSD?

The most important thing for a Veteran struggling with PTSD is to receive treatment.

Without treatment, PTSD has the potential to worsen over time. Sadly, many Veterans do not get the immediate treatment they need for their symptoms and sometimes end up homeless.

There are usually two main ways medical professionals approach treating PTSD: medication and therapy.

It is important to note that every Veteran responds to treatment differently. What may work well for one Veteran does not mean that it will work for every Veteran.

Short-term specific psychotherapies have produced great results for those suffering from PTSD. There are different forms of psychotherapies, so Veterans should try different ones until they find what works best for them.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is one of the main forms of psychotherapy and is considered by some to be one of the most effective. It helps Veterans in both the short term and the long term. This form of therapy is trauma-focused, meaning a Veteran’s trauma experience(s) are at the center of the treatment. It helps identify and change the way Veterans think about their traumatic experience.

This is an active therapy for the participant. It requires involvement both in and out of therapy sessions, which usually occur in weekly appointments for a span of about 12 to 16 weeks.

The Veteran will learn skills in CBT so that they can apply them to their symptoms. If practiced consistently, this will help with symptom improvement. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

This form of psychotherapy involves disrupting trauma-related thoughts, memories, and feelings. It will involve the Veteran paying attention to a sound or an object moving back and forth while thinking about the traumatic event. 

Present Centered Therapy (PCT)

This type of psychotherapy differs from the rest since it is a non-trauma form of therapy. It focuses on current issues rather than focusing directly on the trauma itself. PCT provides education on the impact of trauma and gives strategies in which the Veteran can deal with current stressors.

Veteran Benefits and PTSD

As a Veteran, you are entitled to benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). To make an effective claim, it is important to have experienced attorney’s representing you throughout the process.

Our experience at Berry Law gives us the resources and tools to advocate for Veterans who struggle with PTSD.

One of the first steps to making a claim through the VA is to get properly diagnosed with PTSD. A Veteran can do this by going to their local VA medical center and having a PTSD screening. This will allow the Veteran to describe the symptoms that they are experiencing.

The diagnosis process is multi-phased and highly detailed to ensure that the Veteran is not exaggerating or denying their symptoms. The overall goal of the assessment is to determine the frequency and severity of the symptoms the Veteran is experiencing. A Veteran’s partner may also participate in the assessment.

Once a Veteran goes through the process of making a claim, if the VA denies it, they can always appeal the decision.

This process can become even more complicated than the initial claim, to which it is then highly important that a Veteran seeks guidance from attorneys.

Conclusion

The Iraq War caused numerous Veterans to experience PTSD and other related mental health problems. Many can never comprehend what some Veterans went through during that war.

The good news is, though, that there are many in the medical and legal world here to help Veterans get the benefits they deserve and the treatment they need. If you are a Veteran and believe that you are experiencing PTSD symptoms, it is crucial to seek the proper diagnosis and treatment you need to alleviate the symptoms.

For any questions or information that you may need regarding Veteran benefits, visit our website

Sources:

What Is PTSD?

OEF/OIF Veterans and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Combat Duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mental Health Problems, and Barriers to Care | NEJM

PTSD Facts & Treatment | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law Firm are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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