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PTSD in the Military


According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among the Veteran population is a common experience. In fact, seven out of one hundred Veterans (7%) suffer from PTSD, which is slightly more than the general population (6%). It is more common among female Veterans, 13% compared to 6% of male Veterans. Other data from the VA indicate that Veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and the Persian Gulf War have experienced higher rates of PTSD at some point in their lives (21-29%) compared to Veterans of the Vietnam War, World War II, and the Korean War (3-10%). 

What Is PTSD? 

The National Institute of Mental Health describes PTSD as a disorder that develops in some people who experience or witness a shocking, frightening, or dangerous event. Many people feel fearful during and after traumatic situations, which is a natural response to potentially dangerous situations. However, most people recover from these initial symptoms over time. Those individuals who continue to experience stress, anxiety, or other types of symptoms after the initial triggering event may receive a diagnosis of PTSD. 

Why Is PTSD More Prevalent Among Military Veterans?  

In general, the most common issues or life events that may potentially lead to someone experiencing PTSD are military combat, sexual assault or rape, severe accidents, natural disasters, and violent crime.  

Servicemembers are exposed to various stressors that can lead to PTSD, including: 

  • Combat situations: Direct involvement in combat or exposure to life-threatening situations. 
  • Witnessing traumatic events: Seeing others injured or killed or witnessing violence. 
  • Military-related stress: Extended deployments, high-pressure environments, or separation from family and friends. 
  • Sexual assault or harassment: A significant issue in the military.  

What Are Symptoms of PTSD? 

Symptoms of PTSD include intrusive thoughts (i.e., recurring memories, nightmares, flashbacks); avoidance of people, places, or activities; negative changes in thinking and mood; and hyperarousal (i.e., increased irritability, difficulty sleeping, or heightened startle response). These symptoms can have an enormous impact on servicemembers’ personal and professional lives and can lead to impaired job performance, relationship issues, health problems, increased risk of substance abuse, and risk of self-harm or suicide

How Is PTSD Treated? 

Because various experiences lead to various PTSD issues, many types of treatment and therapy are available and used among servicemembers. However, mental health issues in the military are one of the biggest challenges those with PTSD face due to the stigma often associated with it. To combat this stigma, the Brandon Act was signed into law by President Biden in 2021, and it is part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022. 

The Brandon Act, named after Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Caserta who died by suicide, is a law that creates a self-initiated referral process for servicemembers seeking a mental health evaluation. In essence, it focuses on reducing stigma by allowing those suffering from PTSD to seek help confidentially. The Defense Health Agency is working with the military departments to educate all servicemembers on the process to seek support and is implementing training for commanding officers and supervisors to ensure requests are reviewed appropriately and efficiently. 

A wide range of mental health and wellness support is available to servicemembers worldwide. They may request a mental health evaluation through their commanding officer or supervisor and may continue to contact their local healthcare provider directly. Other resources include:

Where to Get Help If You Have or Think You Have PTSD 

If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988 or chat at 988Lifeline.org to connect with a trained crisis counselor who can help. 

Can You Get Life Insurance If You Have PTSD? 

AAFMAA understands the complexities of military life and we carefully consider each application for life insurance on its own merits. Unlike some other carriers, we do not have an automatic denial for PTSD. Please contact 800-522-5221, option 1, or [email protected] to discuss your options for coverage with an AAFMAA Membership Coordinator. 

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.  Photo by Air Force Senior Airman Christina Carter. Air Force 1st Lt. Taylor Canter interacts with Iris, a service dog-in-training, during the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month observance at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., June 28, 2022. Iris is with Retrieving Freedom, a nonprofit that trains service dogs to help children with autism, veterans and others.