We all know that treating veterans for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is important. However, what not everyone realizes is that PTSD has devastating effects not only on the veterans themselves, but their families suffer as well.
Thus far, around 2.5 million men and women have been sent to war in the Middle East and southwest Asia. This is the equivalent of the entire population of Chicago. Over 270,000 men and women have been treated for PTSD, and there are many more who are waiting to be treated. Many VA clinics are experiencing 30 day waits or more for veterans to be seen by psychiatrists. The number of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder is increasing by about 20,000 every six months, and will likely continue to increase.
We will often hear the numbers of casualties of wars, those who have been injured, maimed, and killed. The number of casualties of recent wars seems much smaller than in the past, modern warfare tactics, technology, and advances in medicine have lowered the number of soldiers killed in combat. While the lower death toll is certainly great, it also has greatly increased the number of veterans returning home with PTSD.
PTSD is devastating not only to the veteran, but its symptoms are also devastating to their families. PTSD sufferers have been shown to have elevated levels of severe and marital and parenting problems, as well as defects in intimacy and sociability. Many spouses of returning veterans note drastic changes in their loved one. PTSD often causes its sufferers to have explosive anger, anxiety, depression, and detachment. Marriages that have survived long deployments and the absence of a partner for months or even years at a time often begin to deteriorate upon the veteran’s return home, due to the difficulty of dealing with these sorts of personality changes.
Substance use disorders range from 21.6% to 43% in those with post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to 8.1% to 21% in the general population. Many PTSD sufferers are not getting the care they need, and often turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. The combination of PTSD symptoms like explosive anger and irritability combined with alcohol abuse greatly increases the rates of domestic violence in homes with PTSD sufferers.
We can certainly see that everyone in the household with a PTSD sufferer can be subjected to very high levels of stress. This stress has been shown to increase mental illness in both spouses of the PTSD sufferer as well as children. Children may be witnesses to verbal aggression, substance abuse, or even domestic violence. In addition, the symptoms of PTSD often include decreased emotional availability and emotional numbing. Children are often unable to completely understand mental illness, and when one parent is suddenly emotionally unavailable to them, this can cause great distress, and lead to psychological problems down the road.
The vast majority of veterans are loving spouses and parents. We must remember that PTSD sufferers are just that-sufferers of a disease. There are real and measurable changes in the brains of those with PTSD, and they are often completely unable to control their emotions. Focusing our efforts on treating returning vets quickly and properly is crucial to the happiness and well-being of our veterans, their spouses, their children, and our society as a whole.