The Facts About PTSd and Veteran Suicide

Post-traumatic Stress can occur following a life-threatening event like military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape. … People who suffer from PTSd often suffer from nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, and feeling emotionally numb.  Members of the military exposed to war/combat and other groups at high risk for trauma exposure are at risk for developing PTSd. Among veterans returning from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, PTSd and mild to moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI) are often linked and their symptoms may overlap.

(Excerpt from The Truth About PTSd)

The physical changes that take place in the body and brain following trauma are beginning to be understood, but most treatments for these changes are still experimental. Generally, PTSd is treated as a mental or emotional disorder with medication and psychotherapy. The goal of this treatment is to make it possible for the sufferer to “get by.” One of the interesting and complicated difficulties of PTSd is that no one treatment works for everyone.  Each person, it seems, is a clean slate that doctors and therapists will throw various treatments at until something sticks. This can be one of the most frustrating aspects of PTSd for both the sufferer and those who care for them. While the science of this is still evolving, one thing we do know is that PTSd is very common. The National Center for PTSd provides some important statistics:[i]

  • 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives.
  • About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (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 (10%) develop PTSd sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 men (4%).
  • Women are nearly twice as likely to have PTSd as men at some point in their lives.
  • The prevalence of PTSd among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is 13.8%.

One of the statements we make during the Mighty Oaks Program is that trauma is not a veteran issue; trauma is a life issue. While the data does indicate that combat veterans suffer from PTSd at a higher rate than the general population, it also makes clear that there are millions of people who have never seen combat but are struggling to get back on their feet after dealing with a traumatic life event.  This is where I must be very clear: I am not drawing this distinction to say that combat-related PTSd is somehow insignificant or “common.” I have seen first-hand the damage, both to individuals and families that combat related PTSd can and does cause.  I only make the distinction to remind my fellow veterans that there are many individuals and families outside of the military community that need to understand how to move forward just as much as those who have served. This is a human issue that we would all do well to address so that anyone who endures trauma will be able to find hope and purpose on the other side.

As the study of both the physiological and biological impact of PTSd continues to develop, the expectation is that our understanding and treatment will as well.  There are many good organizations and individuals working to bring clarity to an otherwise confusing issue.  The problem in all of this is that as we wait for a breakthrough in treatment, those who are struggling resign themselves to a life where the primary goal is making it from one day to the next.  Since our knowledge of PTSd is constantly evolving, there is little hope for the person who has been diagnosed of ever getting “better.”  And so, instead of identifying the trauma as a serious life event and learning how to move beyond it, many will allow that event to define who they are.  A moment in time, a traumatic and abnormal one to be sure, now becomes the lens through which every action, thought, and relationship is filtered, often with devastating effect.

And this is the problem.  A medical community that is still working to get a firm grasp on how exactly to classify and deal with Post Traumatic Stress has declared that those who have it are broken.  The word used is “disordered.”[ii] The implication: instead of PTSd being something that can be addressed and overcome, the sufferers are destined—because they are disordered—to struggle for the rest of their lives. Is it really a mystery, then, that the suicide, divorce and substance abuse rates among those who have been diagnosed is so high? When hope of moving beyond the trauma is removed, there is very little motivation to continue.  It is as if the diagnosis is given and the one who has received it is locked in a cell with no expectation of ever being released.

This is, to me, what makes our view of trauma so important.  Instead of simply accepting the label that is put on those who have dealt with a traumatic event and are living life as a slave to that label and that diagnosis, understanding the practical implications of PTSd and then developing a plan to move forward is essential.  Let’s look first at the practical implication of PTSd.


[ii] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition,2013 pp. 265

Current VA Findings on Veteran Suicide: 

  • Findings show there is variability across the nation in the rates and numbers of deaths by suicide among Veterans. Overall, the Veteran rates mirror those of the general population in the geographic region, with the highest rates in Western states. While we see higher rates of suicide in some states with smaller populations, most Veteran suicides are still in the heaviest populated areas.
  • The suicide rate among middle-age and older adult Veterans remains high. In 2014, approximately 65 percent of all Veterans who died by suicide were age 50 or older.
  • After adjusting for differences in age and sex, risk for suicide was 22 percent higher among Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adults. After adjusting for differences in age, risk for suicide was 19 percent higher among male Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adult men. After adjusting for differences in age, risk for suicide was 2.5 times higher among female Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adult women.

At Mighty Oaks, we are committed to reducing Veteran suicides through our programs. We know that of the 20 suicides a day that we reported last year, 14 are not under VA care. This is a national public health issue that requires immediate action!

Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at, or text to 838255.