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While we are well removed from this year’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day—celebrated on every June 27th since 2010—this does not mean that we can ignore the effects of this illness on both those who suffer from it and the society that is tasked with helping them in their recovery. And even though we are now past Veterans Day, it does not mean the issues facing the active and retired military go away. In fact, on a random Wednesday, like today, we should be as mindful as ever as to the effects that combat has on those willing to make the sacrifice for their respective nations, both in America and abroad.
PTSD was first recognized as a psychological disorder in 1980 as specific symptoms of its presence could finally be readily and reliably diagnosed by mental health professionals—this was also the year it added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (more commonly known as the DSM). Receiving entre into the DSM is an important step for emerging or newly-recognized psychological disorders as it provides significant legitimacy to the disorder itself and in the serious with which it is diagnosed and ultimately treated. This is especially important for those suffering from PTSD, as it is associated with changes in brain function and structure, and some cases may be delayed, with only subtle symptoms showing up initially and more severe symptoms emerging months after the traumatic event—so the severity with which it is properly treated is paramount as it is a potentially long-term and damaging disorder to possess.
All of the above goes doubly so for our active military and veteran populations here in the U.S.
While PTSD affects a large swath of the American population as a whole—possibly as many as 25 million people suffer from it at any given time in the U.S.—the portion of that number is greatly outsized to our veterans and active military members. In fact, military reporting of PTSD has jumped almost 50% since 2016, and there is reason to believe, based on data from VA administrative experts, that up to 20% of all troops deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, up to 10% of Gulf War veterans, and up to 30% of Vietnam War veterans either have experienced or are currently experiencing PTSD as a direct result of their service time. Things begin to look even more dire when examining the statistics for female vets and service members, as, even though women make up just 17% of our active military, 71% of them have developed or will develop PTSD due to the incidence of sexual assault that they experience that men often do not.
Overall, we as a nation look to help over 5 million veterans and active service members with PTSD treatment, and often through a VA system that is often slow and overwhelmed (though this is another thought, for another day), and frankly, we can do better in treating these men and women who are making the choice to serve their country in this way.