By Annette Pinder

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a psychiatric disorder that may occur in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Such events may include war/combat, a terrorist attack, rape, sexual violence, or serious injury. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notes that six out of every 100 U.S. adults will have PTSD at some point in their lives, and about 12 million will experience PTSD during a given year. 

According to the VA, the incidence of PTSD among veterans depends upon the specific war in which the service member was involved, based on the most recent National Vietnam Veteran Readjustment study conducted in the late 1980s. The VA estimates that somewhere between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, about 12 percent of every 100 Gulf War Veterans, and about 15 percent of every 100 Vietnam veterans, were diagnosed with PTSD 

PTSD has been known by various names in the past, including “shell shock” and “combat fatigue.” These terms are no longer used, primarily because they give the impression that post-traumatic stress is exclusive to combat veterans. While exposure to an upsetting traumatic event is necessary before a diagnosis of PTSD can be made, the event can be indirect. For example, police officers repeatedly exposed to details of heinous crimes can develop PTSD even though they are not victims of those crimes and did not witness them. Nevertheless, individuals are more likely to develop PTSD if they are injured or directly exposed to a trauma.

The APA divides PTSD symptoms into four categories:

  1. Intrusion: Intrusion refers to recurring thoughts, such as repeated involuntary memories, distressing dreams, or flashbacks of the traumatic event.
  2. Avoidance: Many avoid reminders of the traumatic event, such as places, activities, objects, people, and resist talking about the event and how they feel about it.
  3. Alterations in cognition and mood: Individuals with PTSD may be unable to remember details of the traumatic event, and develop negative thoughts and feelings that lead to ongoing and distorted beliefs about themselves and others. They may blame themselves for the event, or experience ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame. A sense of detachment or estrangement from others also may occur.
  4. Alterations in arousal or reactivity: Common symptoms can include being irritable and having angry outbursts; reckless and potentially self-destructive behavior; being overly watchful of surroundings; easily startled; or having difficulty sleeping or concentrating. 

PTSD affects people from all walks of life. Individuals having difficulty processing a traumatic event they were directly or indirectly involved in are urged to contact their physicians immediately. Locally, the VA of Western New York wants people to know that there is hope and that there are many effective treatments for PTSD. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Department of Psychiatry is located at 3495 Bailey Avenue, Suite 1027B. Learn about extensive VA benefits at To make an appointment to be evaluated for PTSD, call 716-862-8595. Learn more about PTSD at and