PTSD and the Military
The world is ripe with potentially traumatic situations. Events like Hurricane Katrina, the Columbine High School shootings and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City can all lead the people who experienced these events to develop PTSD. It's been shown, though, that man-made traumatic events have a greater impact on the incidence of PTSD than natural, unavoidable events do [source: NCPTSD].
This is just one reason that, on the whole, no other group is more vulnerable to developing PTSD than the military. Experiences like the killing of other people, the handling of corpses, being fired upon, witnessing others die and suffering dramatic injuries can all create trauma in a soldier. The development of PTSD has been shown to be directly related to the intensity of the traumatic experience, and soldiers are often faced with the most stressful of situations on a routine basis. For example, the Vietnam study showed that 15.2 percent of male Vietnam veterans and 8.5 percent of female Vietnam veterans overall suffered from PTSD. However, when only those who had fought in high-intensity combat were evaluated, those numbers jumped to almost 36 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Studies have also shown that people who develop military-related PTSD are more likely to develop it chronically [source: NCPTSD].
Soldiers can also be exposed to comorbidities. These are prior conditions or conditions that may have occurred at the time of the traumatic experience. Comorbidities can encourage the development of PTSD and vice versa. Prior drug and alcohol dependency, an existing personality disorder, a family history of mental issues, and brain injuries are all examples of comorbidities. These factors have been shown to directly and negatively affect the impact PTSD has on a person. PTSD can also aggravate an existing drug problem, as well as decrease the likelihood that a person will recover quickly from an injury or illness.
This is of particular concern for some researchers who are studying soldiers fighting in the Iraq. With brain injuries regarded as the "signature wound" of the Iraq War, and most of these injuries coming as the result of a traumatic experience like the explosion of a roadside bomb, the likelihood of soldiers fighting in Iraq developing PTSD is increasing. A 2004 study showed that soldiers fighting in Iraq have a 17 percent chance of developing PTSD [source: Hoge].
They're also at an added risk due to the type of guerilla warfare that is being carried out in this war. In the setting of guerilla warfare, the chances for witnessing and taking part in abusive violence, atrocities, and civilian casualties may be increased, and all of these factors have been shown to raise the likelihood that a person will suffer post-traumatic stress disorder as a result [source: NCPTSD].
In the next section, we'll learn how our expanded understanding of PTSD has led to more treatment options.