In recent years, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been attributed to incidents of violence on military compounds like Fort Hood and the Navy Yard.
But experts worry that snap judgments may stigmatize all veterans diagnosed with the disorder.
Starting in 2010, the U.S. Congress asked that the month of June be devoted to raising awareness to PTSD. Traumas can induce varying degrees of psychological reactions, and mental health experts aren’t sure why some develop PTSD and others do not.
Several symptoms of PTSD include avoiding situations that may remind a service member of the event, feeling numb or avoiding memories of the situation, and feeling “keyed up.”
The disorder is linked to drug and alcohol issues, depression, problematic employments, relationship issues and sometimes suicide.
When a family is faced with something like a post-deployment suicide, there’s a tendency to connect any changes in behavior with a diagnosed, or sometimes undiagnosed, mental disorder.
The Veterans Health Association (VHA) uses several screening instruments to diagnose service men and women with PTSD. The VHA screens for PTSD every year for the first five years a veteran enters the system, and then once every five years thereafter.
Veterans who screen positive for PTSD are then referred for additional evaluation, typically a face-to-face interview with a psychiatrist or trained clinician.
However, according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report from 2012, PTSD is difficult to diagnose and treat. The report indicates that many service members do not want to seek treatment for mental health programs despite the widespread outreach programs. Additionally, symptoms of PTSD often overlap with other conditions, thus making it difficult to pinpoint and assign treatment.
Dr. Bradford Eaton is a primary care psychologist at the VA outpatient clinic in South Bend. In his line of work, Dr. Eaton encounters many service members making the difficult readjustment to civilian life.
Among the primary symptoms of PTSD, Eaton said their perspective may change as well. “[It] changes the way they see themselves and the world, very often, in kind of a negative sense they interpret things. They might feel guilty, they might blame themselves or others for these situations.”
When asked about the association of mental disorders with outbursts of violence, Eaton said correlation doesn’t mean causation.
“They link that with ‘oh they were being treated for mental health problems,’ or ‘oh, they had PTSD.” That’s immediately considered the cause of the action when there are many other factors that could’ve contributed,” Eaton explained.
Medications and types of therapies are used to treat PTSD, but there is no cure. Service members are given anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medicine, while some undergo evidence-based therapies that help them change the way they view trauma.
Within the realm of the VA health system is the Vet Center in South Bend. However, combat veterans and their families don't need to be enrolled in the VA health care system to get treatment. All they need is a copy of their DD214 discharge paper.