A Psychology Today article posted in November of 2013 found that as much as 54% of combat soldier have developed insomnia since September 11, 2001. This statistic, although shockingly high, proves to be very telling of the physical and mental struggles combat soldiers experience both on and off the battlefield. If left untreated, insomnia can greatly alter a soldier or veteran's quality of life by causing unnecessary hardship in an already troublesome atmosphere.

Insomnia, as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, can either be "acute" or "chronic". Acute insomnia occurs when an individual undergoes a brief period of high-stress or other emotionally-taxing situations. As a result, an individual becomes too preoccupied with these issues to allow the brain to settle down and enter a proper and healthy state of rest. However, chronic insomnia occurs when an individual experiences prolonged sleeplessness that is not otherwise brought on by a singular event in time. Rather, people with chronic insomnia also suffer from (mostly undiagnosed) mental illness, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

PTSD affects one out of five combat veterans, says the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs, and is sometimes developed after an individual has either witnessed or undergone a traumatic event. Combat veterans are therefore more susceptible than the general population for developing the disorder due to their highly stressful and dangerous occupations. The National Institute for Mental Health categorizes the symptoms of PTSD into three parts: re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, and hyperarousal symptoms. Insomnia can fall under the symptoms of hyperarousal, since one of the defining characteristics of that category is sleeplessness. However, insomnia could also be considered part of re-experiencing symptoms, since nightmares and flashbacks (that make an individual re-experience his or her traumatic incident) can be attributed to a loss of sleep.

A lack of sleep is commonly known to be detrimental to a person's daily active performance. Soldiers especially are expected to meet exceptional levels of awareness, but insomnia can greatly hinder those levels. As a result, soldiers put themselves and others at a much greater risk for injury or death due to their delayed reactions and clouded thinking.

Certainly, people suffering from chronic insomnia should seek medical advice to ensure that no underlying mental illness exists. However, those who suffer from acute insomnia can also seek help, but keep in mind that these type of insomnia is only temporary, although still potentially dangerous.
For veterans, the VA offers both psychiatric medication and talk-therapy, although studies released in 2012 by CNN and other media outlets found 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 insomnia 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.