VA Leading the Way: Screening, treatment can improve the lives of Veterans with PTSD

VA sponsors PTSD Awareness Month and PTSD Screening Day in June

By Dr. Shereef Elnahal, VA Under Secretary for Health

Published on June 17, 2024

Since 2014, VA has sponsored PTSD Awareness Month to educate the public on the mental health condition that affects an estimated 6 out of 100 Americans and 7 out of 100 Veterans.

PTSD is a mental health condition that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening or traumatic event. PTSD can cause distress and interfere with functioning, making everyday routines—like going to the grocery store, pumping gas, watching fireworks, or even hugging a friend—seem impossible. PTSD presents itself in many ways, but common symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, detachment, avoidance and feeling keyed up or on guard.

If you find yourself struggling with thoughts about suicide, the 988 (press 1) call line is there to help. You can also text 838255 or chat online with the Veterans Crisis Line. This free, confidential resource offers support from trained professionals when you need it.

Having PTSD can lead to a sense of isolation and hopelessness. But there is hope for Veterans—PTSD is a treatable disorder, and VA providers can help. VA offers a variety of evidence-based therapeutic treatment options.

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)—one of the most effective treatments for PTSD—focuses on teaching people to reframe negative thoughts about the trauma. People may believe they are to blame for what happened or that the world is a dangerous place. These kinds of thoughts keep people stuck in their PTSD and cause them to miss out on things they used to enjoy. CPT teaches people more helpful ways to think about their trauma. The therapy takes place once a week over about 12 weeks, but can also be done daily.
  • Prolonged Exposure (PE)—one of the most effective treatments for PTSD—teaches people how to gain control by facing their fears and talking through the trauma. People with PTSD often try to avoid memories and activities that remind them of the trauma. This can help them feel better in the moment, but not in the long term. Avoiding these feelings and situations actually keeps people from recovering from PTSD. By talking about the trauma and confronting safe situations that have been avoided, people can decrease their PTSD symptoms and regain more control of their life. The therapy takes place once a week over 8-15 weeks, but can also be done daily.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)—one of the most effective treatments for PTSD—focuses on helping people process their trauma. Processing the trauma can allow them to start to heal. In EMDR, people will pay attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound while they call to mind the trauma and any thoughts or physical feelings that come with it. The back-and-forth movement helps people to stay in the present while allowing the brain to process information from the past and bring in new ways of feeling about the event. The therapy takes place once a week over 12-18 weeks, but can also be done daily. These therapies have been proven successful in decreasing PTSD symptoms in Veteran patients so the symptoms no longer interfere with Veterans’ everyday lives. These treatments are available to Veterans at locations across the country.

Additional studies

VA is committed to high-quality research that safely promotes the health of our nation’s Veterans. In line with this goal, as announced in January, VA plans to conduct additional studies under stringent protocols at various facilities to evaluate if psychotherapy—in combination with compounds such as MDMA and psilocybin—are effective for treating Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions. VA may provide agency research funding to larger studies investigating these novel therapies, including those that involve novel ways of administering the therapy with the intent of achieving maximum benefit to Veterans, while minimizing risks.

Get Screened: National PTSD Screening Day is June 27

June 27 is National PTSD Screening Day. This is a day to spread awareness about the importance of self-screening. But screening is available year-round. If you or someone you love may have PTSD, take an online PTSD self-screen anytime on the VA website’s screen tool.

After the screening, Veterans can contact a health care provider to further discuss results and next steps. 

PTSD resources

If you or someone you care about may have PTSD, access help and available resources from the National Center for PTSD.

I encourage Veterans to visit their local VA Medical Center or VA clinic and seek treatment for PTSD. VA health care providers are not only experts in PTSD, but they know and understand PTSD symptoms in Veterans.

This piece was republished from VA News.

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