Recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be an ongoing, daily and gradual process.1 It does not happen through sudden insight and it requires veterans to use their strength to reach out for treatment. But influences outside of treatment such as support from fellow veterans, continuing education or returning to work can have a positive influence on recovery. If you are a veteran coping with PTSD, consider taking the following five steps to support your return to peak performance.
1. Lean on Your Fellow Veterans
Stress injuries are common among veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, so you are not alone. Reaching out to other brave men and women who have served our nation can bolster your return to peak functioning, and support groups for PTSD are available at each stage of the recovery process. These groups focus on topics ranging from overcoming daily challenges to entering into VA or DoD counseling programs.2 Whatever the topic, support groups can offer veterans coping with PTSD a sense of community and encouragement during a time of uncertainty.
Support groups can be held in informal environments, such as another veteran's home or a community center, or in settings such as a Vet Center or VA Medical Center. They offer helpful information and encouragement to those who are looking for information about seeking professional, clinical counseling, and can show veterans that seeking treatment is a sign of courage. Finally, PTSD support groups provide an environment filled with others who have shared traumatic experiences and begun to follow a path toward recovery.
Tools for Success
Use the following resources to find PTSD support groups in your area:
* Contact your local VA facility
* Find psychological health providers near you
* Search the Anxiety Disorders Association of America's support groups list
* Connect with other veterans at the Real Warriors Message Boards
2. Continue Your Education with Support from VA
Continuing your education can positively influence recovery from PTSD, and enrolling in a degree or certificate program can help channel your thoughts toward learning and new ways to be involved in productive activities.
Soldier receiving an award
Photo by Staff Sgt. Orly N. Tyrell
Veterans who have successfully coped with PTSD have found that working towards a goal like a degree or certificate can be beneficial to recovery. (Watch Staff Sgt. Megan Krause discuss how she coped with PTSD while pursuing her degree.)
Tools for Success
In recognition of their service, VA provides three programs to veterans to aid them in continuing their education:
* The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the largest investment in veterans' education since World War II, covering the full cost of an undergraduate education at any public university or college in the country, as well as many private schools
* The Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty provides up to 36 months of education benefits to eligible veterans for several types of education, including college, vocational courses and flight training
* The Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) was established in 2005 to provide educational assistance to veterans from Reserve components called or ordered to active duty in response to a war or national emergency
3. Return to Work or Volunteering
One of the major symptoms of PTSD is a strong feeling of anxiety. Employment offers an opportunity to keep focused on specific tasks, minimizing the amount of time the mind has to wander back to stressful memories. In addition, seeing that you can achieve goals at work while coping with symptoms of PTSD can help you feel more empowered in your quest for full recovery.
Volunteering for a community organization is a similar way to positively aid your recovery. Working with local youth programs, medical services, literacy programs or sporting activities allows veterans to feel they are contributing to their community.3
Tools for Success
To start searching for a job today, use the following resources:
* America's Heroes at Work is a U.S. Department of Labor project that addresses the employment challenges of returning service members living with PTSD
* The U.S. Office of Personnel Management provides information about opportunities for veterans within the federal government
* The Veterans Employment Coordination Service recruits former service members to work in the VA system
* Veteran Employment and VetJobs list employment opportunities just for veterans
* Search for volunteer opportunities in your area with Serve.gov and VolunteerMatch, or by contacting your local community or faith center
4. Exercise to Relax Your Body and Mind
Exercise can benefit those coping with PTSD. Activities like jogging, swimming, weight lifting and walking may reduce physical tension, and activities like stretching, yoga or pilates are effective relaxation techniques. Using these types of activities can help you feel more energized and confident, and can provide a break from painful memories or difficult emotions. Perhaps most importantly, exercise can improve self-esteem and create feelings of personal control.4 (Always be sure to consult with your health care provider before starting any new exercise program.)
Tools for Success
Learn more about how regular exercise can reduce stress and positively impact recovery:
* Read a success story about a wounded Navy corpsman who used exercise to support his recovery from PTSD and substance misuse
5. Talk with Your Social Support Network
It's easy to feel lonely when you're coping with PTSD, but you are not alone and isolation can actually make you feel worse.5 Reestablishing or increasing contact with a child, spouse, partner, friend or work colleague can help you feel less isolated, and aid in your recovery.6 Members of your social support network are an important part of your recovery, and they are there to listen and help you through rough times.7 In addition, research shows that spending time talking with friends can make you feel better and have a significant effect on your health.8 So don't isolate yourself — use the strength you built as a warrior to reach out to your family, friends, colleagues or fellow veterans for support.
Tools for Success
To get free, confidential advice about tools for discussing PTSD — or for information about any of the tools discussed above — contact a trained health resource consultant 24/7 at the DCoE Outreach Center:
- Talk online with Real Warriors Live Chat
- Call 866-966-1020
1,3,4,6"Coping with PTSD and Recommended Lifestyle Changes for PTSD Patients," National Center for PTSD, last accessed March 16, 2010.
2,7PTSD Anonymous Web site, last accessed March 16, 2010.
5Mental Health America, fact sheet on PTSD, last accessed March 16, 2010.
8"Dealing with Combat and Operational Stress" fact sheet [PDF 110kb], last accessed March 16, 2010.