For information about PTSD and programs available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, check www.ncptsd.va.gov.
STRESS DISORDER SYMPTOMS
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur following a traumatic, life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents or physical or sexual assault.
Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. Some, however, may have stress reactions that do not go away on their own or get worse over time. These veterans may develop PTSD.
Reliving the trauma in some way, such as becoming upset when being confronted by a reminder of it or thinking about it when you are trying to do something else:
Staying away from people or places that remind you of the trauma, isolating from other people, feeling numb.
Feeling on guard, irritable or startling easily.
Biological changes also associated with PTSD include depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition.
[Source: National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]
Combat Stress in Iraq and Afghanistan
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are likely to produce a new generation of veterans with chronic mental health problems related to combat, according to Brett Litz, associate director of the behavioral sciences divison of the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders.
"Many studies indicate that more frequent and more intense involvement in combat operations increases the risk of developing chronic PTSD and associated mental health problems," he writes in a paper about the mental health impact of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Initial evidence indicates that combat operations in Iraq are very intense. Soldiers in Iraq are at risk for being killed or wounded themselves, are likely to have witnessed the suffering of others, and may have participated in killing or wounding others as part of combat operations.
"All of these activities have a demonstrated association with the development of PTSD. [A 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine] indicated that 94 percent of soldiers in Iraq reported receiving small-arms fire. In addition, 86 percent of soldiers in Iraq reported knowing someone who was seriously injured or killed, 68 percent reported seeing dead or seriously injured Americans, and 51 percent reported handling or uncovering human remains. The majority, 77 percent, of soldiers deployed to Iraq reported shooting or directing fire at the enemy, 48 percent reported being responsible for the death of an enemy combatant, and 28 percent reported being responsible for the death of a noncombatant.
"An additional set of unique stressors stems from the fact that much of the conflict in Iraq, particularly since the end of formal combat operations, has involved guerrilla warfare and terrorist actions from ambiguous and unknown civilian threats. In this context, there is no safe place and no safe role."