While post-traumatic stress disorder isn’t exclusive to military service members and veterans, the population is at especially high-risk for developing PTSD. Elevating their risk for the potentially disabling condition is exposure to a multitude of traumatic experiences that often accompany military service in times of conflict, including
Between 11% and 20% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated to have post-traumatic stress disorder. Overall, PTSD affects more than half a million veterans and active military members nationwide.
The issue concerns more than just providers at Veterans Affairs hospitals. It’s not uncommon for patients there to have to wait an average of 8 weeks just to see a counselor for PTSD symptoms, according to a June 2014 report. As a result of this and other circumstances (such as private insurance availability and coverage), many military veterans are seeking healthcare outside the VA health system in private medical facilities.
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that stems from a traumatic experience. In cases of PTSD, the person’s natural fight-or-flight reaction becomes damaged, causing fear or stress even in safe situations. Not everyone exposed to trauma will develop PTSD, but those who do commonly experience the following:
Symptoms, which can arise immediately or months, even years, after the event, last more than 30 days. PTSD often interferes with everyday life and, left untreated, can result in broken relationships, substance abuse and even suicide. Generally speaking, the earlier treatment is provided, the better the outcome.
Although awareness is growing, PTSD can cause shame in military members and veterans who associate their symptoms with personal weakness. Sensitivity to such views is important. However, a strong will alone isn’t enough to combat PTSD.
Treatment for PTSD includes psychotherapy and medications. Cognitive behavior therapy, in particular, helps patients learn to recall the traumatic event while identifying thoughts that sustain the continued fear and symptoms. Over time and through repetition, they learn to cope with rather than fear the memory.
In addition, antidepressants, mood stabilizers and sleep aids may be prescribed to help manage symptoms. Support groups are also available for people seeking others dealing with PTSD symptoms.
The American Nurses Foundation recently launched a free PTSD toolkit to help civilian RNs better recognize PTSD in veterans and active military members. Developed by the experts at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Philadelphia, the toolkit consists of a PTSD-focused website and an e-learning module to teach RNs how to assess for PTSD, intervene, and refer patients for treatment.
“Nurses often represent the first point of contact for veterans and military personnel seeking care. We want them to have tools to help veterans find the help they need to transition back to civilian life,” says Nancy Hanrahan, PhD, RN, FAAN, who led the toolkit’s development.
“PTSD can be treated and cured. Failed transitions from military life to civilian life are unacceptable outcomes.”
In a video introduction to the PTSD toolkit, Cmdr. Pamela Herbig Wall, MSN, PMHNP-BC, a psychiatric NP with the U.S. Navy, urges nurses to get involved in the fight against untreated PTSD.
“You have the power to help change the lives of these service members who have suffered from trauma and continue to experience a pattern of symptoms that can cause disruption in their work or social lives,” she says.
“You can make a difference.”
The PTSD Toolkit App is a FREE e-learning resource for nurses for treatment of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, providing clinical information combined with interactive simulations. This resource was developed by the American Nurses Foundation (ANF) and Penn Nursing Science, and was made available as a mobile application in partnership with Lippincott Solutions.
The PTSD Toolkit App is scheduled to release on the iTunes Store and Google Play in late November 2015. Stay tuned to http://lippincottsolutions.com/ptsd for additional information and download instructions!