Honoring the Hidden Battles: Veterans and Post-Military Trauma

Written by Emily Arismendy

It is crucial to acknowledge and honor the brave people who have served in the armed forces, defending the freedoms we hold dear. While their courageous sacrifices often receive recognition, it is equally important to shed light on the invisible wounds many veterans carry with them long after their service has ended.

We empathize with how difficult it can be to deal with the trauma one can experience in the military. It’s crucial to raise awareness about the impact of trauma on Veterans and their families. We want them to know that their community can provide them with the assistance they need to heal from unseen wounds like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Remember, it’s okay to seek help, and you are never alone.

PTSD in Veterans

PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Veterans frequently face traumatic situations during their service, such as combat, witnessing the death of comrades, or exposure to high-stress environments. These experiences can leave lasting emotional scars, leading to symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, hypervigilance, and emotional numbness. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of PTSD is essential in supporting veterans, and it is vital to encourage seeking professional help and treatment options available to them.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, at some point in their life, 7 out of every 100 Veterans (7%) will have PTSD. In the general population, 6 out of every 100 adults (6%) will have PTSD in their lifetime. However, it’s important to note that this might not be a fully accurate representation as many Veterans may not know they have PTSD or may not be comfortable reporting their condition. PTSD is also more common among female Veterans (13%) versus male Veterans (6%).

Sexual Trauma in Veterans

Sexual harassment is an alarming issue that affects both male and female veterans. The military environment, unfortunately, has experienced instances of sexual harassment and assault, leading to severe trauma for victims. These experiences can have lasting psychological consequences, making it difficult for veterans to reintegrate into civilian life. Recognizing and addressing sexual harassment within the military is essential to create an environment where all service members feel safe and respected. Here are some statistics that highlight the prevalence of sexual trauma among veterans:

  1. Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military (2020): The report documented 6,290 reported sexual assaults involving service members. Out of the total reports, 2,150 involved male victims, while 4,140 involved female victims.
  2. Veterans Health Administration (VHA) National Screening Program for Trauma: According to a study conducted by the VHA, approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men experienced sexual assault while serving in the military. Among female veterans seeking VHA healthcare, 23% reported a history of military sexual trauma (MST).
  3. Invisible Wounds: Psychological and Neurological Injuries Confront a New Generation of Veterans (RAND Corporation, 2008): The study estimated that around 20% of women and 1% of men who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom reported experiencing sexual assault during their military service.

Read our blog about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Trauma and Domestic Violence

Unresolved trauma, such as PTSD and sexual harassment, can contribute to a higher risk of domestic violence among veterans. Traumatic experiences can lead to emotional instability, anger management issues, and difficulties in maintaining healthy relationships. By seeking mental health support and addressing the underlying trauma, veterans can mitigate the likelihood of perpetrating domestic violence. Providing accessible mental health resources is a critical step toward breaking this distressing cycle.

According to findings from a study conducted by the American Medical Association, it is indicated that involvement in the SAH program implemented as a part of regular care at VA facilities led to decreased instances of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), PTSD symptoms, and alcohol misuse. These outcomes imply that the implementation of IPV intervention within VA healthcare facilities was effective, and it may be justifiable to expand it to other organized healthcare systems.

A study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that Veterans who participated in mental health treatment experienced a significant decrease in the perpetration of domestic violence. The data showed a 35% reduction in violent behavior following treatment.

Seeking help

We recognize that it can be difficult to ask for help when you are struggling with your mental health. Seeking support for mental health struggles can be particularly daunting for veterans who have served in the military, where there is an ingrained expectation to mask vulnerability and exhibit unwavering strength. Therefore it is crucial to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health and wholeheartedly rally behind vulnerable communities. Here are a few ways we can support veterans in seeking mental health help:

  1. Eliminating stigma: Educating society about the realities of mental health struggles, reducing stigma, and fostering an environment of empathy and understanding.
  2. Enhanced mental health services: Ensuring that veterans have access to specialized mental health care that addresses their unique experiences and needs.
  3. Peer support networks: Encouraging veterans to connect with their peers who have gone through similar challenges, fostering camaraderie and support.
  4. Family involvement: Recognizing the vital role families play in the recovery process and providing resources to help them understand and support their loved ones.
  5. Community initiatives: Establishing community programs that promote mental health awareness, offering counseling services, and facilitating integration into civilian life.

Read our blog about the relationship between domestic and sexual violence, mental health, and substance use.

Resources in Austin and Texas

  1. Texas Veterans Commission (TVC): The TVC offers a wide range of services and resources to veterans in Texas, including employment assistance, education benefits, claims representation, mental health support, and housing assistance. Visit their website (https://www.tvc.texas.gov/) or contact their office for more information.
  2. Texas Veterans Land Board (VLB): The VLB provides affordable land, home, and home improvement loans to Texas veterans. They also offer programs for housing assistance, nursing homes, and cemeteries. Visit their website (https://www.glo.texas.gov/vlb/) for more details.
  3. Travis County Veterans Services: Travis County Veterans Services assists veterans and their dependents in accessing various benefits and services. They provide information and support for VA claims, healthcare, education, employment, and more. Visit their website (https://www.traviscountytx.gov/veterans-services) for contact information and resources.
  4. Veterans Affairs (VA) Benefits: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates several facilities in Texas, including the Austin Outpatient Clinic. These facilities provide medical care, mental health services, counseling, and other benefits. Visit the VA website (https://www.va.gov/) to explore the available services and locate the nearest VA facility.
  5. Combined Arms: Combined Arms is a nonprofit organization that connects veterans with resources and services in the Austin area. They offer a directory of veteran service organizations, employment assistance, social events, and networking opportunities. Visit their website (https://www.combinedarms.us/) for more information.
  6. Veterans Crisis Line: If you or a veteran you know is in crisis, the Veterans Crisis Line provides 24/7 confidential support. You can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255, or chat online at https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/.

This Independence Day, let us remember the sacrifices made by our veterans and the challenges they face in their post-service lives. By shedding light on issues such as PTSD, sexual harassment, and substance abuse, we can work towards a society that supports the mental well-being of our Veterans. By providing accessible mental health resources, we can help reduce the likelihood of Veterans becoming involved in domestic violence cases, fostering a healthier and safer environment for them and their families. Together, let us ensure that our gratitude extends beyond words, translating into tangible support for those who have served our nation.