ptsd statistics

PTSD and Veterans: Breaking Down the Statistics

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that occurs in people who have lived through a traumatic event. These types of events can include a serious accident, natural disaster, or incident of violence such as physical assault and sexual abuse to name some examples. This document is a summary of available research on Veterans and PTSD. The sources used here are referenced at the end of the document.

According to the American Psychiatric Association and health professionals, the most common symptoms of PTSD can be summed up into four main categories:

  • Intrusive Thoughts: involuntary re-experiencing of memories, nightmares, flashbacks
  • Avoiding Reminders: avoiding people, activities, etc. that remind them of the event
  • Negative Thoughts and Feelings: negative self-talk, fear, anger, shame, detachment, etc.
  • Arousal and Reactive Symptoms: angry outbursts, reckless behavior, sleep problems, poor concentration, etc.

While this condition can occur following a variety of traumatic events, combat experience is a strong predictor of a diagnosis of PTSD[1]. We’re breaking down the numbers and rates of PTSD to provide a clearer picture for military veterans, their family members, and loved ones the secondary health conditions associated with it, and overall access to PTSD treatment.

Overall Veterans PTSD Statistics

PTSD statistics among all veterans

how common is ptsd among veterans? the statistics

There are many estimates out there as to how many veterans develop PTSD during their lifetimes. However, the major facts about the prevalence of PTSD can be summed up into a few statistics. 

  • Up to 34.8% of veterans have a lifetime incidence of PTSD.[2]
  • 3.5% of veterans have PTSD after 12 months of service and 6.8% over their lifetime.[3]
  • Nearly 90% of veterans reported a lifetime traumatic event with an average of 3.4 traumatic events in soldiers.[4]

Statistics on military sexual harassment and PTSD

how common is sexual harassment in the military?

But it’s not just active combat that causes PTSD associated with military service. Instances of sexual assault are also a factor, particularly involving female veterans. Currently, women make up about 9.4% of the total veteran population, but this number is estimated to go up to 16% by 2040.[5]

  • 40% of 2583 female veterans in California reported a sexual assault during their military service, which was a substantial contributor to PTSD symptoms.[6]
  • Among veterans who use VA health care, about 23% of women reported sexual assault while in the military.[5]
  • About 55% of women and 38% of men experienced sexual harassment while in the military.[5]

 

PTSD statistics by Age Groups and specific Wars

Among the nearly half a million veterans alive today, those aged 70-74 make up the largest portion. This group is followed closely by those aged 65-69 and 75-79 respectively.[7] However, data shows that instances of PTSD may be higher among younger veterans [8].

  • Veterans discharged during the mid-1980s had a rate of PTSD of 16.9% for theater veterans 60 years and older over their entire lives and 5.5% for non-theater veterans.[9]
  • Veterans discharged during the mid-1980s that were younger than 60 years old had a PTSD incidence rate of 22% (theater) and 15.7% non-theater.[9]

We can also break down PTSD instances by specific wars.

What health conditions are associated with PTSD?

PTSD presents a wide range of symptoms and may be associated with secondary health conditions. Below are statistics on these.

Mental & Behavioral Health

  • In 2012, 22% of veterans diagnosed with PTSD had a dual diagnosis of substance use disorder.[15]
  • 33-52.3% of older veterans have a dual diagnosis of depression along with PTSD.[16] With the risk of having both bipolar disorder and major depression being greater among women veterans.[8]
  • 50.1% of all veterans and 72% of veterans who screened positive for PTSD reported at least ‘moderate’ post-traumatic growth in relation to their worst traumatic event.[21]

 

Cardiovascular Health

  • Once a veteran has a history of chest pain, there is a 31% increase in the development of PTSD.[10] With, PTSD being the main predictor of high blood pressure.[11]
  • Compared to veterans without PTSD, those with it had an 80% higher risk for cerebrovascular disease, 56% higher risk for congestive heart failure, 82% higher risk for heart attack and 60% higher risk for peripheral vascular disease.[12]

How effective is PTSD treatment?

 

Former service members with PTSD can seek counseling for their condition – and the data shows that this counseling is effective.

  • Veterans who had at least one PTSD symptom and underwent family counseling had significant reductions in PTSD symptoms after the first session.[18]
  • Women veterans with depression and PTSD that had 8 or more sessions of family counseling showed the strongest symptom reductions of all veterans.[18]

Younger veterans may be more likely to seek PTSD help than older.

  • Older veterans especially 80 years and older, with a new diagnosis for PTSD, are most likely to not receive mental health treatment that is appropriate and timely.[19] 
  • Veterans with multiple psychiatric diagnoses were more likely to have more medical appointments associated with PTSD treatment.[19]

Sources

Last updated 6/2020.

[1] Steele, 2017

[2] National Vietnam Veterans Study, Xue 2015

[3] National Comorbidity Study, 2015 

[4] Wisco, 2014

[5] National Center For PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

[6] Kintzle, 2015

[7] National Center For Veterans Analysis and Statistics, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

[8] Ramsey, 2017

[9] Goldberg, 2016

[10] Stanford University, 2015

[11] Burg, 2017

[12] Beristianos, 2016

[13] Mt. Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, 2018

[14] Kang, 2019

[15] Bowe, 2015

[16] Duke University, 2019

[17] Nashville VA Medical Center, 2016

[18] Laws, 2019

[19] Smith, 2016

[20] Vasterling, 2016

[21] Tsai, 2015

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