Some veterans return from war, having experienced horrors most people can’t begin to comprehend, and show no symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress disorder. Others experience trauma that is nowhere near as intense, but suffer from severe symptoms for years. The Veteran’s Administration may reject the second vet’s claim, and the veteran may end up in a struggle fighting for a very real and very disabling condition.
So, what makes some veterans suffer from severe PTSD from seemingly less traumatic incidents, while others are seemingly unaffected by the horrors of war? The answer is still unclear, but modern research has provided us with some answers.
First, some psychologists and neuroscientists believe that the answer lies in our early development. Some children are exposed to stressful events during early childhood, and others are sheltered from stress. When exposed to stress, the brain releases a chemical called neuropeptide Y, which regulates responses to stress and regulates the emotional response to stress. Children exposed to a great deal of stress tend to have brains who are “used” to releasing large amounts of neuropeptide Y, so much so that some researchers equate this to a vaccine: children sheltered from stress in early childhood are “inoculated” against stress, and their brains will more easily release neuropeptide Y during times of great stress. Neuropeptide Y, administered through a nasal spray, is currently being explored as a therapeutic medicine for treatment of PTSD.
Another facet may simply be genetics. Scientists have discovered a gene called FKBP5, which regulates the release of chemicals in the brain called glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids regulate the brain’s stress, fear, and emotional response to stress. While the above developmental theory seems like it suggests that exposure to stress in early childhood is a good way of protecting the brain from PTSD, the genetic theory says that those with a variation in this gene who are exposed to early trauma are MORE likely to develop PTSD when exposed to trauma as an adult.
The one thing science DOES know is that no doctor, psychologist, or government bureaucracy can predict who will suffer from PTSD, or what trauma is “severe” enough to trigger it. When fighting for your PTSD claim, be sure to prove your case well, cover the criteria the VA uses to judge PTSD cases, and understand what compensation you should expect. PTSD can be severely debilitating, and the psychological pain can be even greater when your claim is in question.