The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs reports that one in five combat veterans develops Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, either during or shortly after combat. The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as having three main categories of symptoms: “re-experiencing symptoms,” “avoidance symptoms,” and “hyperarousal symptoms”. These categories can be simplified to describe symptoms of flashbacks and nightmares, feeling of guilt and depression, and insomnia, respectively. But are some races more susceptible to developing PTSD? That is, are veterans from a certain nationality more likely to develop the mental disorder, or is everyone equally vulnerable?

To answer this question, we turn to Monica Williams, Ph.D. and author of an article published in Psychology Today called “Can Racism Cause PTSD? Implications from the DSM-5”. In her opening paragraph, Williams paints a scene of an African-American male feeling threatened at work by his boss. The worker feels that he is only assigned “demeaning work,” and is told to keep a close eye on other African-Americans while they are browsing throughout the store. As a result, Williams says that the worker can quickly develop feelings of “depression, generalized anxiety, low self-esteem, and feelings of humiliation”—all potential trigger factors that can excel into full-blown PTSD.

Williams says that according to the National Survey of American Life (NSAL), “African Americans show[ed] a prevalence rate of 9.1% for PTSD versus 6.8% in non-Hispanic Whites,” which shows that there is indeed an underlying trigger that causes minorities to develop PTSD. But what is that trigger exactly?

Williams explains that the emotional and psychological impact that racism has on the human mind can be a huge trigger to setting off symptoms of PTSD. Feelings of inadequacy, fear, and anxiety are all effects of racism, and can cause a person to feel physically and mentally threatened.

Unfortunately, like in almost every place around the world, racism still poses a major problem, including the military. Over the past few years, many news outlets have reported about the emergence of “white supremacists” in military branches like the Army, where white males earned more benefits and privileges than minority soldiers.
Racism has been a prevalent problem in society for centuries, and even though many movements (like the Civil Rights movement) have tried to deter the public from adopting racist viewpoints, racism still runs rampant in all aspects of society. So for combat soldiers who are also of a minority group, perhaps it would be beneficial to receive psychological treatment for suspected symptoms of PTSD related to racism. Addressing problems of PTSD at least gives minority veterans some control over their lives, and might make them feel more empowered.

However, veterans should be wary of seeking this sort of treatment through the VA, since reports released by CBS News in 2013 revealed that medical professionals associated with the VA prescribed 259% more narcotics than in 2002, and that individualized therapy had fallen by the wayside. Therefore, ailing soldiers and veterans who suffer from PTSD might want to consider consulting outside organizations to rehabilitate their physical and mental health.

One of those organizations is Operation: I.V, a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2012 that helps combat veterans heal from both PTSD as well as traumatic brain injuries. Its founder, Roxann Abrams, is a Gold Star Mother who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams in 2009. Randy took his own life after experiencing a PTSD flashback from his service in Iraq. Randy had undiagnosed PTSD- a common occurrence among combat veterans either due to mistakes made by the medical field or simply the individual’s failure to report such grave symptoms.

As a result of her son’s death, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. so that combat veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have a place to receive treatment through a specialized “VIP”, or “Veteran Intervention Plan” program. “VIP” offers ten different rehabilitation programs, including hyperbolic oxygen therapy, service dogs, and anxiety reduction therapy. Additionally, veterans may also partake in programs such as job retraining, business mentoring, and educational assistance. Again, while there is no cure for PTSD, the programs provided by Operation: I.V. can drastically improve a veteran’s mental health and overall outlook on life!

Author's Bio: 

Abigail Fazelat is a contributing writer for Operation: I.V., a non-profit organization founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to PTSD. Randy took his own life after experiencing a wartime flashback- an experience not uncommon to any combat veteran. As a result, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. as an “intravenous of help” for other Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and contemplating suicide. Fazelat has worked for the organization since October 2013 under a pseudonym.