Coping with the hidden wounds of war


With more than 3 in 4 post 9-11 veterans reporting that they suffer from post-traumatic stress, many American military families are coping with this invisible wound of war as their loved ones’ transition back into civilian life.

“PTSD and mild traumatic brain injury greatly impact the veteran’s family, friends and community too,” says Dr. Jo Sornborger, director of psychological health programs for UCLA Health Operation Mend, a program that provides medical and mental health support for post 9-11 service members and their families. “The good news is that treatment can help a vet learn how to manage trauma and regain a sense of normalcy.”

PTSD can develop in people who have seen or lived through a shocking or dangerous event, causing them to feel stressed or frightened long after the event itself. Traumatic brain injury can be caused by an object striking the head, a shock wave from the blast of an explosive device or an object piercing the skull and entering the brain tissue.

For veterans, family and community support are essential to building a healthy environment that will help them make a more successful transition back home, says Sornborger.

Here are tips for families coping with a veteran with PTSD or TBI:

1. Know the signs. Symptoms of PTSD and mild traumatic brain injury can include irritability, isolation, agitation, jumpiness, nightmares, sleep disturbance and substance abuse.

2. Don’t take it personally. By realizing the signs are the result of an invisible wound, loved ones won’t misinterpret the veteran’s actions. Knowing that PTSD and TBI are medical conditions may help family member’s cope better with the stigma these patients face.

3. Community Resources. Families and communities can help create a healthy environment for veterans and be proactive in plugging them into community resources. Patients can benefit from services offered by a knowledgeable mental health care provider. There are also online resources available to educate veterans, family members, and caregivers about the signs and symptoms of PTSD and TBI.

4. Seek intensive help. For those who need more than regular outpatient care, UCLA Operation Mend and three other academic medical centers partnered with Wounded Warrior Project to create the Warrior Care Network. The network provides intense outpatient programs for veterans struggling PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other mental health conditions. The innovative collaboration tailors mental health care to wounded veterans, leading them to new methods to cope with challenges. The program is offered at no cost to veterans and their family members.

“Service members and their families are very resilient,” says Sornborger. “They don’t have to suffer from the hidden wounds of war because there is support available to help.

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