Treatment for Service Members and Veterans Facing Trauma
Everyone’s experience of trauma and recovery is unique. Treatments that work for some people may not work as well for others. Various treatments are effective for military-related trauma symptoms or problems.
Trauma-focused psychotherapy (talk therapy) is a first-line treatment for military members with PTSD. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) has the most evidence for treating the symptoms of the condition.
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure therapy (PE) are two of the most researched types of cognitive behavioral therapy for military members. Both types of therapy typically take three months of weekly treatment.
In cognitive processing therapy, therapists help patients identify negative thoughts related to the trauma and replace them with more balanced, less extreme thoughts.
In prolonged exposure therapy, therapists help patients revisit trauma in a safe, clinical setting. Through the process, patients can change how they react to traumatic memories, and learn how to face stressful events going forward.
Another form of therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) can also be highly effective in treating PTSD in service members. In EMDR, therapists guide patients to follow visual stimuli or feel tapping movements. While focusing on stimuli while recalling traumatic memories, patients can reprocess traumatic memories.
Although research has shown that trauma-focused psychotherapy is often the best treatment for PTSD in service members, antidepressant medications are also a effective in addressing mood-related symptoms.
Approximately 60% of patients experienced a reduction in symptoms after taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant medication. Patients may prefer medication to psychotherapy, or may take medication in combination with psychotherapy.
Whether or not military members have a diagnosis of PTSD, those who are exposed to trauma can benefit from trauma-focused psychotherapy, medication, as well as complementary and integrative therapies such as yoga, meditation, bodywork, and expressive arts therapy.
According to a 2020 report that surveyed 119 veterans, respondents reported that yoga practice was related to a decrease in perceived stress, meditation was linked to improved physical functioning, and tai chi was linked with reduction in anxiety, as well as overall improvements to mental and physical health.
The VA and other organizations that support military members now offer complementary and integrative treatments. Awareness of how these treatments benefit service members is growing among mental health professionals and the public. Such treatments offer hope to veterans, whose conditions can be long-lasting and who may wish to play a more active role in their healing process.
Where To Find Help
NAMI recommends service members seek help from primary care providers, behavioral health counselors available on military bases, or confidential counselors available through Military One Source.
When health care providers work with service members, they are obligated to follow the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). They will only break confidentiality in certain situations, such as when someone poses a threat to themselves, others, or their military mission.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers mental health services to veterans regardless of discharge status, service history, or eligibility for VA health care.
According to the VA, veterans are often unaware of their VA benefits. Because of this, they face practical barriers, such as inability to pay for treatment and inadequate health insurance. They often struggle with logistical issues, such as lack of transportation and trouble fitting health care appointments into their schedules.
Veterans can call or walk in to any VA Medical Center. They can also call their nearest VA medical center to schedule an appointment.
Barriers to Treatment
Societal attitudes around mental health can be a barrier to treatment for people in the armed forces. Members of military culture have feared that having mental health issues can be a sign of weakness.
Fortunately, this attitude is shifting. While more still needs to be done about the issue, service members are becoming more comfortable talking about their mental health, supporting their peers, and seeking treatment.
Part of this shift is due to changes in policy. Until 2014, rules within the armed forces discouraged members from seeking help for mental health issues. Service members could be discharged for receiving a diagnosis or treatment.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the armed forces now recognize how important it is for service members to receive help for mental health concerns. The military understands that service members’ mental health is just as important as their physical health when carrying out a mission.
Service members are no longer required to report mental health concerns to their chain of command. If you seek treatment, your career and your security clearance will not be affected.