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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, occurs when someone has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, and it disproportionately affects combat veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD afflicts almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan and 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans.

In the past, PTSD has been called “shell shock” and “combat fatigue,” but the devastating hallmarks are the same: nightmares, flashbacks, sadness, anger, depression and a sense of estrangement from others. These intense, disturbing symptoms can last long after the traumatic event occurred.

There are things that family members and friends can do to help, starting with encouraging an affected loved one to seek treatment. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a number of different treatment programs throughout the VA’s nationwide health care system. Nonprofits, like the PTSD Foundation of America, also can help by placing veterans in appropriate “Warrior Groups” where they can recover with fellow service members who might better understand, even through online video conferencing.

Let us share a few more ways that family members also can help in our article.

1. Planning enjoyable activities with friends and relatives. Encourage an affected veteran to get out and do things to have fun, but at their own pace. If they find it difficult to leave the house, for example, consider organizing a small get-together at a neighbor’s home.

2. Offer to go to the doctor with them. PTSD can affect people in different ways, including making it hard to focus or remember details. If that is the case, then you may want to accompany your loved one to their medical appointments. Help them by taking notes and keeping track of recommended medicines. It may also help to associate appointments with something fun, like going out afterward for pizza or ice cream.

3. Make a crisis plan. Veterans who suffer from PTSD can experience extreme mood changes when “triggered,” leading to unpredictable behaviors. Talk in advance about what to do. You might not be able to prevent a crisis from happening, but you can learn to recognize certain triggers, reduce exposure to them, and develop steps to enable you to help them cope.

4. Assess what is working, and what is not. Check in often. Determine which support strategies are working and what is most helpful. Develop different coping strategies to deal with nightmares, flashbacks or panic attacks if something is not working well.

If you know a veteran who is need of assistance, do not wait to reach out. There is never a wrong time to help our military servicemen and women. If you need assistance or a resource, do not forget that our law firm is available to you.