How to Watch for Signs of Trauma in a Combat Veteran

Whether it involves combat or witnessing other distresses of war, military service will change your life. Being a part of or seeing traumatic events of war can affect someone’s reactions and thinking long after the event itself is over. For instance, people who survive terrifying circumstances can develop a condition known as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it is important to recognize this problem before it ravages your loved one’s life.

How to Watch for Signs of Trauma in a Combat Veteran

The effects of trauma can show up at anytime, even years after the triggering events have ended

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains that PTSD can form “after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers”[i]. In other words, to develop PTSD, you do not have to endure trauma, as you could only witness it. In that regard, be aware that the effects of trauma can show up at anytime, even years after the triggering events have ended. To further complicate recognizing and treating this condition, it is sometimes intertwined with depression, sleep disorders, chronic pain, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. Watch for the signs and symptoms of all of these issues so that you can get support as soon as necessary.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into the following categories:

  • Re-experiencing
  • Avoidance
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood
  • Hyperarousal

When someone relives a traumatic event, it can come in the form of bad dreams, frightening thoughts and  physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating. In response, she might avoid places, events or objects that remind her of the experience. She might even feel emotionally numb, guilty, depressed or worried when she thinks about her pain. In response, her mood and thought processes may alter so much that she no longer cares about activities that she once enjoyed. She might even have trouble remembering the event, as things that remind her of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms.

On the other hand, symptoms of hyperarousal are being easily startled, feeling tense or on edge, having difficulty sleeping and angry outbursts. NIMH says that, instead of being triggered by things that recall the traumatic event, these symptoms are usually constant, so people feel stressed and angry as a result. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating or concentrating on work[ii].

Veterans Need Specialized Care

The New York Times reported a study of Vietnam vets 20 years after the conflict ended, and it found that a quarter of Vietnam vets still had full or partial PTSD[iii]. The Times reports that, in an attempt to find treatment methods that work for these people, some locations within the veterans’ health system are trying different approaches, including yoga, acupuncture and mindfulness. Inspired by Buddhist teaching, mindfulness emphasizes awareness of the present moment in order to choose how to respond to thoughts, feelings and events. Additionally, one resource that is available through the US Department of Veterans Affairs is the PTSD Coach mobile app. It is free to download on an iPhone or Android, and it helps veterans manage their symptoms. The app has been downloaded over 66,000 times in over 65 countries[iv].

PTSD Is Not Just For Veterans

According to NIMH, anyone can develop PTSD at any age, including war veterans and survivors of physical and sexual assault, abuse, accidents, disasters and other serious events. Even someone who has not been through a disturbing event can get it, as some people show symptoms of PTSD after a friend or family member experiences danger. For instance, the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one can also cause this debilitating condition.

You may have some of these symptoms after a traumatic event, but they usually go away after a few weeks. If that is the case, then you may have had acute stress disorder, but, if it continues, then it might be PTSD. Remember that some people with this problem do not show any symptoms for weeks, months or even years after the event.

What To Do if You Recognize PTSD

If you notice the signs and symptoms of PTSD in yourself or someone else, then get help as soon as possible to keep symptoms from worsening. If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event for more than a month, if they are severe or you are having trouble getting your life back under control, then the Mayo Clinic recommends that you talk to your healthcare professional soon[v].

If your situation is more severe than that—for instance, if you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts—then get help right away through the following resources:

  • Call a suicide hotline. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) staffs trained counselors, so call now and press 1 to reach the Veterans’ Crisis Line.
  • If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, then call 911 immediately
  • Reach out to a close friend, loved one, minister, spiritual leader or someone in your faith community

You could also call our 24 hour, toll-free helpline. Our admissions coordinators can connect you with professional support as soon as you reach out for their professional support. Call now to recover your life.


[i]  “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” The National Institute of Mental Health, nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml.

[ii] Id.

[iii] “For Veterans, a Surge of New Treatments for Trauma,” by Tina Rosenberg, Sept. 26, 2012, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/26/for-veterans-a-surge-of-new-treatments-for-trauma/?_r=0.

[iv] “Veterans Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, www.va.gov/opa/issues/PTSD.asp.

[v] “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” The Mayo Clinic, April 15, 2014, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basics/symptoms/CON-20022540.