Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common issue among military members and veterans. While the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines PTSD in much the same way as other organizations, support options and treatment may differ for veterans.

PTSD is prevalent among military members and veterans. It is not uncommon for individuals to face combat and other traumatic situations during the course of their service.

The VA offers benefits, support, and treatment for PTSD in veterans. There are also other organizations where veterans can find support for PTSD symptoms.

This article discusses PTSD symptoms and definitions according to the VA. It also explains what causes PTSD among military members, as well as what support and treatments are available to them.

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According to the VA, PTSD symptoms are not any different from those of other organizations. The organization states that symptoms can typically begin soon after a traumatic event. However, it can take months or even years for a person to experience PTSD symptoms.

Symptoms of PTSD may vary from person to person. However, for an individual to receive a diagnosis of PTSD, they must experience symptoms from each of the four types.

Reliving or re-experiencing symptoms

This involves memories of the event that can occur at any time and may be disturbing. Examples include:

  • nightmares
  • flashbacks
  • intrusive memories
  • triggers or cues, such as smells, sounds, or sights that remind a person of the event


This often involves avoiding people or situations that may remind an individual of the traumatic event. Examples include:

  • avoiding crowds due to feeling as though they are dangerous
  • keeping busy or avoiding help so they do not have to talk about the event
  • avoiding driving if the event involved a motor vehicle

Negative thinking and mood

The way an individual thinks about their self or others following an event may be more negative than it was before. Examples of these changing thoughts include:

  • forgetting parts of the traumatic event
  • thinking the world is dangerous and that they can trust no one
  • feeling numb and unable to experience positive or loving feelings toward others
  • losing interest in things that used to bring joy
  • feeling guilt or shame around the event


Following a traumatic event, a person may feel on edge, jittery, or always on alert. They may be constantly on the lookout for danger.

Hyperarousal may also include:

  • sudden irritability or anger
  • difficulty sleeping
  • feeling startled by sudden or loud noise
  • difficulty concentrating
  • acting in harmful or dangerous ways, such as driving aggressively or misusing drugs or alcohol

Read more about PTSD symptoms.

A note on PTSD

Not every military member will develop PTSD, in the same way not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops the condition.

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The VA defines PTSD in the same way as other organizations. It is a mental health condition that develops in some people following a traumatic event. This can occur if a person experiences the event or witnesses it.

Anyone can develop PTSD. Certain factors may make a person more likely to develop the condition. These include:

  • previous exposure to trauma
  • experiencing an intense or long lasting traumatic event
  • getting injured during the event

Due to the nature of their experiences, military members may be slightly more likely to develop PTSD than non-military members.

Read more about PTSD.

Prevalence of PTSD among military

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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At some point, around 7% of all veterans will experience PTSD. Female veterans may be more likely to develop the condition with 13% versus 6% in male veterans.

The VA notes that the prevalence of PTSD among veterans can also vary by the era in which they served. The following data reflects information from the VA that was current as of 2023.

Service EraPTSD in their lifetimePTSD in the past year
World War II and Korean War3%2%
Vietnam War10%5%
Persian Gulf War (Desert Storm)21%14%
Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom29%15%

PTSD can occur following any kind of traumatic event. However, there are aspects of military life that may be more likely to cause PTSD.

According to the VA, deployment can increase the risk of military members developing PTSD. Individuals who experience deployment are three times more likely to have PTSD than those members who do not.

There are certain aspects of combat situations that may contribute to the development of PTSD. These include:

  • military occupation or specialty
  • where the war was fought
  • the politics around the war
  • the enemy that was faced

Another potential cause of PTSD in military members is military sexual trauma (MST). MST is any kind of sexual assault or harassment that a person experiences while serving in the military. This can occur at any time during training, war, or peacetime. It can also happen to anyone.

The VA uses the standard treatments that have been proven effective in managing PTSD. These typically include psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of the two.

One type of psychotherapy that is generally useful in treating people with PTSD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

There are various types of CBT a mental health professional may use during treatment for PTSD. These include:

Certain medications may also help manage symptoms of PTSD. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as sertraline and paroxetine, to treat PTSD. Healthcare and mental health professionals may also recommend medications to treat anxiety, agitation, or nightmares relating to PTSD.

The VA offers help and support for veterans in various ways. These include:

Many other organizations across the United States offer support to military members, veterans, and their families.

Some of these organizations include:

If an individual feels they may be experiencing PTSD or other mental health issues, they need to seek professional help and support through any of the various options.

The following are answers to common questions about the VA and PTSD.

What does the VA require to prove PTSD?

According to the VA, for a person to receive PTSD disability compensation they must meet two main requirements. These requirements are that the traumatic event or stressor occurred during their time of service and that a doctor has given an official diagnosis of PTSD.

What does a PTSD episode look like?

During a PTSD episode or a time when a person experiences a trigger, the individual may experience both emotional and physical reactions. These may include extreme fear, horror, or helplessness. They may also involve sweating, increased heart rate, nausea, trembling, and difficulty breathing.

A PTSD episode may look and feel different for each person. Also, not everyone with PTSD will experience extreme episodes.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among military members and veterans is a common and growing issue. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines PTSD and its symptoms in much the same way other organizations do.

PTSD symptoms include re-experiencing, avoidance, negative thinking and mood, and hyperarousal. The condition occurs in some people after they experience or witness a traumatic event such as combat or military sexual trauma.

If a veteran is experiencing PTSD symptoms, there are various support options available. The VA offers treatment and disability compensation, and other organizations offer support in various ways.

Individuals who are experiencing PTSD or other mental health issues should reach out to the VA, a healthcare, or a mental health professional for help and support.