The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs finds that one in five combat veterans suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Usually, people think that PTSD is developed after an individual undergoes a traumatic event, but people can also develop the disorder before the traumatic event is over. Combat soldiers face this exact predicament, as the battlefield is an extremely stressful and volatile atmosphere that constantly torments the minds of thousands of soldiers. What’s worse, the symptoms of PTSD might not appear for months after the brain has already been affected, so soldiers who have been deployed on long tours might have significantly more psychological damage than veterans who have already been discharged.

PTSD consist of three main categories of symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic: “re-experiencing symptoms,” “avoidance symptoms,” and “hyperarousal symptoms”. These symptoms can be boiled down to flashbacks and nightmares, feelings of guilt and depression, and trouble sleeping, respectively. While these symptoms may seem mild, if left untreated, they can have devastating effects on an individual’s mental state. Sleeplessness caused by undiagnosed PTSD can also cause many problems if a soldier is still in combat. On the battlefield, soldiers need to constantly maintain awareness, strong reflexes, and quick thinking. However, a lack of sleep greatly represses all of these response, which could potentially cost a combat soldier his or her life.

Unfortunately, PTSD is difficult to diagnose, especially in the military community. Andrew Chambers, a former sergeant in the army and PTSD sufferer, gave a TED Talk and described how the army refused to acknowledge his nightmares and constant paranoia and depression. Further, instead of serving him adequate medical attention, ththey did not serve him adequate treatment and instead sent him back into combat. This response and subsequent course of action was probably the worst outcome for Chambers, as his condition greatly worsened, as one would expect. Later, Chambers wanted to kill himself because no one seemed sympathetic to his needs brought on by his destroyed mental state.

So how are combat soldiers still in service supposed to cope with the disorder?

Frankly, the best method for rehabilitation is a Catch-22—soldiers should be removed from the battlefield in order to adequately recover. However, a lack of acknowledgment on the part of the military medical community inhibits such necessary discharge from service. PTSD has only existed in the eyes of the medical community since the end of the Vietnam War, and surely the military is reluctant to let 20% of its soldiers be discharged because of PTSD while many boots are needed on the ground.
Unfortunately, the best combat soldiers can do is simply become aware of their symptoms and know that they are not alone in their suffering. Further, they must recognize that the flashbacks, nightmares, and sleeplessness are all part of a mental disorder that affects a great number of soldiers, and they are not “weak” for succumbing to the mental torment brought on by the horrific tragedies of war. But soldiers must keep in mind that they suffer from a disorder, and as soon as they are discharged, should seek treatment outside the military as soon as possible.

Soldiers should seek treatment outside of the military. Although the VA offers both psychiatric medication and talk-therapy, 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 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.