When armed conflict arises — no matter where in the world it happens — Veterans can experience a range of challenging emotions as events unfold. This can be especially true for combat Veterans who may be reminded of their own deployment experiences.

Common reactions to disturbing events

Feeling distress is a normal response to negative events, especially those that feel personal. Veterans may experience the following reactions in response to current events in Ukraine:

  • Feeling frustrated, sad, helpless, distressed (including moral distress), angry or betrayed.
  • Worrying about civilians, such as interpreters, who worked with the U.S. military in the region.
  • A spike in symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions.
  • Sleeping poorly.
  • Drinking more or using more drugs.
  • Trying to avoid reminders of disturbing events, including media coverage and social situations.
  • Having more memories of military experiences and homecoming.
  • Questioning the meaning and sacrifices of serving in the military.

Veterans also may feel that they need to expect and/or prepare for the worst. They may:

  • Become overly protective, vigilant and guarded.
  • Become preoccupied with a sense of danger.
  • Feel a need to avoid being shocked by, or unprepared for, what may happen in the future.

It can be helpful to let yourself experience those feelings rather than trying to avoid them. Often these emotions will run their course naturally. However, if they continue without easing up or if you feel overwhelmed by them, the suggestions below can be helpful.

Strategies for managing ongoing distress

When current events bring up traumatic memories, it can be helpful to focus on the present and engage in the activities that are most meaningful and valuable to you. Is there something you can do today – as a family member, parent or community member – that is important to you?

Can you put more energy into something meaningful in your work or your spirituality? These activities will not change the past or the things you can’t control, but they can help life feel meaningful and reduce distress, despite the things you cannot change.

It can also help to ask yourself if your thoughts are helpful to you right now. Are there ways you can change your thinking to be more accurate and less distressing? For example, are you experiencing extreme thinking that views the situation as all bad or all good?

If so, try and think in less extreme terms. Rather than thinking, “My military service was useless,” consider instead “I helped keep the world safe.”

Consider more general coping strategies:

  • Engage in positive, healthy activities that are rewarding, meaningful or enjoyable, even if you don’t feel like it, as they can lift your spirits.
  • Stay connected by spending time with people who give you a sense of security, calm or happiness, or those who best understand what you are going through.
  • Practice good self-care by engaging in soothing activities, such as listening to music, exercising, practicing breathing routines, spending time in nature or with animals, journaling or reading inspirational materials.
  • Stick to your routines and follow a schedule for when you sleep, eat, work, and do other day-to-day activities.
  • Limit your media exposure, especially if it’s increasing your distress.
  • Use a VA mobile app by visiting https://mobile.va.gov/appstore/mental-health.
  • Try PTSD Coach Online, a series of online videos that will guide you through 17 tools to help you manage stress.

When to consider professional help

If your distress is prolonged or you are unable to function well, consider seeking support. At VA, Veterans can connect with compassionate professionals who have the education and experience to help manage depression, anxiety, PTSD, moral injury, complicated grief and other conditions that may be aggravated by current events.

  • Every VA facility has mental health specialists. Visit https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/get-help/local-care.asp to find a provider near you.
  • Talk about your reactions in community-based VA Vet Centers, where over 70% of staff are Veterans themselves. Call 1-800-WAR-VETS or find a Vet Center near you.
  • Go to maketheconnection.net, an online resource designed to connect Veterans, their family members and friends, and other supporters with information, resources and solutions to issues affecting their lives — including challenging life events or experiences and mental health issues.
  • If you feel as if you might hurt yourself or someone else, reach out now. Through the Veterans Crisis Line, confidential support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255 or chat online at veteranscrisisline.net/get-help-now/chat.

By Courtesy the VA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

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Published on Mar. 9, 2022

Estimated reading time is 3.8 min.

Views to date: 7,325

12 Comments

  1. Lee March 27, 2022 at 2:50 am

    zero safe access . Openly currupt practices leave patients alone and in distress.

    Any attempt to acess oscar g johnson ironmountain mi . Is met with legacy record doxxing and unsafe environment.

    What a scam rubberstamping lies and aduse wont stop untill adjudicated and there is no avenue for that .

    Brain injuries rarely have visible scares except those that show from doxxing with intent to circumvent accessibility.

  2. Randolph Anthony Felix March 24, 2022 at 11:37 am

    Just my two cents from an old guy who served 40+ years ago as a FMF Greenside Corpsman, everyone has different stressors from their traumatic events. I still do to this day, noises of sirens, sights of ambulances affect me and can bring on incapacitating memories / flashbacks. Watching the stories of the death and destruction in Ukraine is hard, witnessing real-time people how real people are suffering and dying. This for some Veterans can be a trigger, nobody knows what that stressor is for another Veteran, we can only try to deal with our own symptoms how best we can, in the best way that works for each of us individually. Let us not be the judge of our Brother and Sisters in arms. We needed each other when we served on active duty and we need each other even more now after we’ve assimilate into civilian lives and roles.

    • Cathleen March 24, 2022 at 4:17 pm

      Thank you. Well said.

  3. Jennifer Cresswell March 23, 2022 at 1:50 am

    Thank you for the information about veteran’s health!

  4. Curt’s Gilliland March 20, 2022 at 9:27 pm

    Being a former infantryman in Vietnam and being slightly wounded in combat twice, burying bodies as well as digging them up and burning bodies and so close to the enemy I could touch him, it has accompanied me daily since I was in the jungles and rice fields in 68/69. Since then I’ve returned to Vietnam around thirty times meeting and probably eating with former enemies, as well as with the Vietnamese ambassador. It hurts when those who have never been shot at or killed someone says their PTSD, is as bad. Until you’ve as we infantry vets killed and looked the body, you have NO how it hurts.

  5. Henry G.Sproles March 19, 2022 at 10:22 am

    Everyone that services our country should have respect for all members,And there families.Because Family members support there service member at all times..I think the problem is in Washington,D.C.with who needs the most funds..When purching things like hammers,crow bars We should support the local areas..Instead of buying these items and paying large amounts of funding for shipping and things like that.

  6. Larry March 17, 2022 at 8:49 pm

    With all due respect to those who were in combat & suffer from PTSD & other mental health issues, please stop insulting those non-combat veterans who have PTSD from their service to America. Everyone was there & supported the mission.
    No one body part works without the other.
    I was called a baby killer upon return home from non-combat duty. In 1973 also.

  7. Gary Vandivier March 16, 2022 at 9:18 pm

    Why do we thick that only combat vets are the only one with PTSD, I know women and men taht has never been in combat that has PTSD from all the other crap that happen in the Service of all branches.

  8. Anthony Pough March 10, 2022 at 10:30 am

    My situation is so strange, when an event or incident comes up to “haunt “ me, I try to stay in the moment but my current issues are connected to my past trauma. So I find this process extremely difficult, but I persevere, somehow.

  9. Robert Johnson March 9, 2022 at 9:23 pm

    You don’t have to be a combat veteran to have experienced life threatening violence aboard ship in the Navy.

  10. Benjamin Lance March 9, 2022 at 7:19 pm

    Thanks

  11. bob March 9, 2022 at 6:06 pm

    unfriggin believable in trying to print this page. it should be easier

Comments are closed.

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