What We Know About PTSD

Donald Trump drew criticism recently for making remarks that appeared to suggest that veterans that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD are less strong than others are.

Trump draws criticism

Here’s what Trump said at an event organized by the Retired American Warriors PAC in Virginia:
When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat and they see things that maybe a lot of folks in this room have seen many times over and you're strong and you can handle it but a lot of people can't handle it. They see horror stories, they see events you couldn't see in a movie, nobody would believe it ... You know when you hear the 22 suicides a day, it's a big part of your question, but when you hear the 22 suicides a day, that should never be. That should never be. So we're going to be addressing that very strongly. — Donald Trump
Mr. Trump was criticized for the line that said, “you're strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can't handle it.” Democrats were quick to jump on the words as showing that Mr. Trump was putting an unfair stigma on veterans that suffer from PTSD. Vice President Joe Biden said of Trump’s remarks:
And this guy doesn't understand any of that? How can he not understand that? How can he be so out of touch? He's not a bad guy. But how can he be so out of touch and ask to lead this country? — Vice President Joe Biden

Remarks taken out of context

Trump supporters responded that the comments were taken out of context and that Trump was merely responding to a question about how to help veterans suffering from PTSD. The Trump campaign put out a statement from the Marine sergeant who asked Mr. Trump the question:
I think it’s sickening that anyone would twist Mr. Trump’s comments to me in order to pursue a political agenda. I took his comments to be thoughtful and understanding of the struggles many veterans have, and I believe he is committed to helping them. — Chad Robichaux, Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs in California

Facts about PTSD

Leaving aside the politics of PTSD, let us look at some facts regarding this illness that is affecting not just veterans, but others who have experienced trauma. According to a fact sheet put out by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, PTSD can happen to anyone who goes through a trauma where “you think your life or others’ lives are in danger.”
Here are some facts (based on the U.S. population):
  • About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
  • About 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.
  • About 10 of every 100 women (or 10%) develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 men (or 4%).
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
In the military, the chances of being exposed to a traumatic event is greater than it is for the average population. As a result, veterans suffer higher rates of PTSD. The VA notes that the number of veterans with PTSD varies by the era of service and that PTSD can be a recurring illness that comes and goes over many years.

PTSD varies by era

Here is a breakdown of PTSD in the military by recent conflicts:
  • Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year.
  • Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans (or 12%) have PTSD in a given year.
  • Vietnam War: About 15 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans (or 15%) were currently diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s, according to the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS). It is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 (or 30%) of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.
— U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

Sexual assault can cause PTSD

The VA also notes that another source of PTSD in the military is sexual trauma resulting from a sexual assault that occurs during military service. Of the women veterans who use VA health care, some 23% reported sexual assault during their time of duty.
Mental Health America reports that over 14 million Americans experience PTSD in any given year. The symptoms may appear immediately after the traumatic event or may lie dormant for many years.

PTSD can be treated

PTSD can be treated with success. Treatment and support are critical to your recovery. Although your memories won’t go away, you can learn how to manage your response to these memories and the feelings they bring up. You can also reduce the frequency and intensity of your reactions. — Mental Health America
Whether or not Mr. Trump intended to criticize those with PTSD will be debated without resolve for the next day or two and then fade away. What’s important to remember is that for those who have PTSD, the illness will not fade away but will remain a lifelong memory and a challenge for the rest of their lives.

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