PTSD: Spot the Symptoms and Get Help

In the American Sniper murder trial, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was used by the defense to try to build an insanity case. That defense didn’t work, and Chris Kyle’s killer was found guilty. "My biggest fear was that he would have gotten away with it," said Andrew O'Brien, a former Army convoy gunner who was diagnosed with PTSD. O’Brien, now a professional speaker, has made some decent headway breaking down stereotypes. O’Brien told USA Today that he found the PTSD defense bothersome, saying, "If he's found not guilty because of insanity[;] that means people think we're insane because we have PTSD. That would have hurt more than anything."

People with PTSD are not insane. That’s key to understanding the disorder. Try to imagine being overcome by a violent flashback. Think about what it might feel like living in fear that you may relive a terrible experience or what it must be like to be numb to the point where it hurts your relationships.

What is PTSD?

The VA is a great source for information on PTSD. According to the VA, the disorder can develop after a traumatic event. A traumatic event can include anything from something horrible and scary that you witness, hear about, or something you personally experience, like:

  • Combat exposure
  • Child sexual or physical abuse
  • Terrorist attack
  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Serious accidents, like a car wreck
  • Natural disasters, like fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake

Most people have some symptoms shortly after they go through a trauma. And only some will have PTSD over time. It isn't clear why some people get PTSD and others don't.

What are the Symptoms of PTSD?

There are four major kinds of symptoms:

  • Reliving the event or having flashbacks
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
  • Feeling keyed up or agitated
  • Having negative change of beliefs/feelings or being emotionally numb

These can be normal reactions shortly after a distressing event. But if the symptoms linger or get worse, it may be PTSD.

PTSD Fast Facts

  • About 8 million American adults have PTSD in a given year
  • 7-8% of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives
  • 10 in 100 women develop PTSD sometime in their lives while 4 in 100 men
  • The potential for the disorder may run in families
  • PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders

PTSD in the Military Community

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. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts:

  • Almost 31 percent of Vietnam Veterans
  • As many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) Veterans
  • 11 percent of Veterans of the war in Afghanistan
  • 20 percent of Iraqi war Veterans

Where to Go For Help or Information

Veterans, family, friends and the general public can learn more about the disorder that affects our returning military members on the VA PTSD portal.

If you think you may have PTSD, take the VA questionnaire. The first thing to know is that effective treatment is available.


For more information: Visit the VA webpage on PTSD.

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