Many people will go through at least one trauma in their lives, and that trauma may lead to a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 60 percent of adult men and 50 percent of adult women will experience at least one trauma in their lifetime, and of the general population, 6 in 100, or 6 percent of the U.S. population, will have PTSD.1 The percentages go up for veterans, sometimes considerably depending on the service area.
What resources exist for veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues? Let’s explore the types of veterans assistance available and learn more about how counselors can specialize in working with active military and veterans to make a positive difference to this population.
PTSD Prevalence in Veterans
PTSD in veterans can be caused by the stress of deployment, especially to active combat areas, as well as by military sexual trauma. Other factors that can contribute to PTSD include a veteran’s role in the war, politics facing the war (ex. protests of the Vietnam War that impacted veterans when they returned home), location of the war and the enemy faced in the war. Additionally, military service is a high-risk occupation overall—the nature of training combined with humanitarian and natural disaster response may increase the likelihood that military personnel are exposed to traumatic events.
Sexual assault or harassment that occurs while in the military is referred to by Veterans Affairs as military sexual trauma (MST) and impacts service members across sex and gender and sexual and effectual identities.2 Numbers for those who suffer this type of trauma may be inaccurate as the statistics are based on reports made by those who use VA health care. Of the MST-related PTSD reported, 23 percent of women experienced sexual assault while in the military, while 55 percent of women and 38 percent of men experienced sexual harassment.
To put some of these percentages into total numbers, of the 2.8 million U.S. service members deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, it is estimated somewhere around 420,000 or more experience PTSD and nearly half have difficulty adjusting to civilian life.3 Veterans need support from qualified, culturally responsive mental health professionals in order to move forward.
Positive Impacts of Military Service
It is important that military service can and does have a positive impact on the lives of those who have served. A Pew Research article notes that service is a point of pride for many, and most veterans surveyed said they would recommend the military as a choice for a career, with 79 percent noting they would recommend joining to a young person close to them.4
Veterans surveyed also said that their service in the military prepared them for civilian jobs by giving them useful skills and training. Twenty-nine percent say their military experience was very useful, and another 29 percent say it was fairly useful.4
Resources for Veterans
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a number of specific programs to support former service members, from health care and disability needs to educational benefits. In terms of mental health, the VA outlines steps for Veterans on how to access help, which often begins with service members determining the type of help they need after they have realized that they need help in the first place. Work has been done by the Department of Defense to reduce the stigma of seeking help for mental health concerns within every branch of the military.5
The VA offers around 200 PTSD treatment programs throughout the country that offer one-on-one mental health assessments and testing to diagnose PTSD, medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy) treatments, family therapy and group therapy.6
Combat veterans have the additional option of going to Vet Centers for one-on-one and group counseling, and these services also can include their families. These centers offer the following services:7
- Military sexual trauma (MST) counseling
- Readjustment counseling
- Bereavement (grief) counseling
- Employment counseling
- Substance abuse assessment and referral
While the VA is often the best place for veterans to begin their journey toward better mental health, they can also reach out to the National Center for PTSD or Anxiety Disorder Association of America to get more information and help.
When veterans who are not near a VA facility need care, they can count on the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (or the Choice Act) to find appropriate care. According to the VA, “The Choice Act provides new authorities, funding and other tools to help support and reform VA.”8 The Choice Act does a number of things for veterans, including helping them find access to care closer to home through Project Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH), claims processing for care rendered at non-VA facilities, a Veterans Choice Fund to help veterans receive care from non-VA providers in order to be seen within 30 days of their preferred date or the clinically appropriate date, or to be seen on the basis of their place of residence. This is just a sampling of all that the Choice Act does for veterans.
Counselors who work with veterans need not have served in the military or have a military background in order to help. By working on a military and veteran specialization during their education, counselors build foundational knowledge on all branches of the military and the specific mental health needs of this population. This education and training also entail the assessment and treatment of trauma-related disorders, how to counsel military couples and how to assist families with the active-military-to-veteran transition.
Specialize in Military and Veteran Counseling at William & Mary
Have you considered specializing in counseling active military members and/or veterans? Check out our blog post, “Your Guide to Becoming a Military Counselor.”
The esteemed faculty in the Online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counseling in William & Mary’s School of Education help aspiring counselors like you choose the counseling theories and approaches that best fit with your personal and professional strengths and preferences. Our Military and Veterans Counseling (a specialization within Clinical Mental Health Counseling) is designed for those who have a passion to give back and serve our military population. Through this specialization, you will gain foundational knowledge about all branches of the military and specific mental health needs within this population.
Explore the curriculum to see how the M.Ed. program will help prepare you to engage a diverse clientele, empowering them with the ability to manage their own well-being, ease distress and resolve crises. Coursework includes studies of the history and mission of various U.S. military branches, including their values, social structure, chain of command, work ethic, job demands and language.
- Retrieved October 28, 2021, from ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp
- Retrieved January 26, 2022, from va.gov/health-care/health-needs-conditions/military-sexual-trauma/
- Retrieved January 26, 2022, from ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_veterans.asp
- Retrieved January 26, 2022, from pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/11/07/key-findings-about-americas-military-veterans/
- Retrieved October 28, 2021, from verywellmind.com/reducing-the-stigma-of-mental-health-care-in-veterans-2797454
- Retrieved October 29, 2021, from va.gov/health-care/health-needs-conditions/mental-health/ptsd/
- Retrieved October 28, 2021, from va.gov/health-care/health-needs-conditions/mental-health/
- Retrieved January 26, 2022, from va.gov/opa/choiceact/documents/choice-act-summary.pdf