Combat Trauma

Combat Trauma refers to traumatic experiences that happened while a service member was deployed to a combat zone on active or reserve status. These experiences can include events that were experienced by the individual, experiences they witnessed, or even experiences they have heard about, particularly if it involved a close friend, family member or trusted individual.

Combat Trauma is something that happened to you. It is NOT a diagnosis or a mental health condition, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you are weak or broken. As with other traumatic experiences, there are a variety of reactions that service members can have in response to combat trauma, and can be based on additional factors such as:

  • Do you have a history of trauma?
  • How others responded to you at the time you experienced trauma?
  • Did the trauma happen one time, or multiple times?

Traumatic events can be life altering, but many service members are incredibly resilient after experiencing trauma. Many service members can recover without the help of a professional; others may generally function well in their life, but can continue to experience symptoms in certain situations; and for some, traumatic experiences may continue to affect their mental and physical health in significant ways, even many years later.

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Some of the SYMPTOMS of a traumatic experience may include:

  • Strong emotions: feeling depressed: having intense, sudden emotional responses to things, feeling angry or irritable all the time
  • Feelings of numbness: feeling detached from family members, having a difficult time getting pleasure out of things you used to enjoy – like BBQ’s, sports, or even sex. Having difficulty experiencing emotions like love or happiness, and engaging in reckless behavior in an attempt to feel “something”
  • Trouble sleeping: wanting to sleep all the time or not at all; trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, disturbing nightmares or waking up to find yourself harming or scaring a loved one
  • Difficulties with attention, concentration, and memory: trouble staying focused, frequently finding their mind wandering, having a hard time remembering things
  • Problems with alcohol or other drugs: drinking to excess or using drugs daily, getting intoxicated or "high" to cope with memories or emotional reactions, drinking to fall asleep
  • Difficulty with things that remind them of their experiences of sexual trauma: feeling on edge or "jumpy" all the time, difficulty feeling safe, going out of their way to avoid reminders of their experiences, difficulty being in public places like a restaurant, feeling like you have to sit or stand where you can see everyone else
  • Difficulties with relationships: feeling isolated or disconnected from others, abusive relationships, trouble with employers or authority figures, difficulty trusting others
  • Physical health problems: sexual difficulties, chronic pain, weight or eating problems, gastrointestinal problems

It is important to remember that these symptoms do not necessarily mean that a person has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or that these symptoms will never go away. In fact, most service members experience these symptoms after returning from deployment, particularly if they have experienced combat trauma. These symptoms are normal for a person who has experienced combat trauma and should typically resolve (or lessen) on their own after 3-6 months. If these symptoms persist or worsen after 6 months, it may be time to talk to a professional about how to address them.

#1. Myth - PTSD happens to everyone who has a traumatic experience.

Truth: There are a certain set of symptoms that most people experience after a traumatic event. Symptoms such as numbness, nightmares or flashbacks, strong emotions, and feeling jumpy or easily startled are a normal response to a traumatic event. You SHOULD have those symptoms. These symptoms should start to resolve on their own 3-6 months after the trauma. If they continue beyond that, we start to look at PTSD. Having PTSD really just means that your normal symptoms have continued a little longer than usual.

#2. Myth - If I have PTSD it means I am weak.

Truth: PTSD is NOT a sign of weakness and it doesn’t mean you are broken or that there is something wrong with you. PTSD is simply a name, given to a normal set of symptoms that some people experience after a traumatic event. Many factors contribute to whether or not someone gets PTSD, and very few of them are things you can control.

#3. Myth - People with PTSD are dangerous or crazy.

Truth: PTSD does NOT make a person dangerous or crazy. Some of the symptoms of PTSD can be distressing, such as nightmares or flashbacks, and strong emotions, and feeling jumpy or easily startled. These things can be difficult and frightening for the sufferer to experience, but rarely lead to dangerous behaviors.

#4. Myth - I am going to be stuck like this forever. I will never get better.

Truth: You CAN get better! Traumatic experiences can disable your brain structures and distort your belief system, but 5PALMS is committed to helping you heal the invisible wounds. We offer many different treatment modalities to help you heal your mind, body, and spirit so that you can return to living a healthy and productive life.

#5. Myth - If I just keep drinking I won’t have to think about what happened.

Truth: This may work in the short term, but we know that avoidance is one of the things that worsen the other symptoms of PTSD. In order to heal your brain, you have to be able to process through normal stages of trauma recovery. This is impossible to do if you are using alcohol or drugs to avoid thinking about it. While healing from trauma is difficult, 5PALMS is committed to making the process as comfortable as possible for you.

#6. Myth - I deserve to have PTSD because of what I did.

Truth: No one “deserves” PTSD. If you are struggling with guilt and shame over something you have experienced, our exceptional clinical team will work with you and help you make peace with your past. You don’t have to continue struggling on your own.


Military Sexual Trauma


Military Sexual Trauma (MST) refers to experiences of sexual assault, or repeated threatening sexual harassment that occurred while a person was in the military. This term is specifically a term used and defined by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the definition for MST comes from federal law (Title 38 U.S. Code 1720D). MST is defined as "psychological trauma which resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexualharassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training."

The behavior may include physical force, threats of negative consequences, implied promotion, promises of favored treatment, or intoxication of either or both the perpetrator or victim. Other events that may be categorized as MST may include unwanted sexual contact, threatening, offensive remarks, and unwelcome sexual advances.

MST is something that happened to you. It is NOT a diagnosis or a mental health condition. As with other traumatic experiences, there are a variety of reactions that service members can have in response to MST, and can be based on additional factors such as:

  • Do you have a history of trauma?
  • How others responded to you at the time you experienced trauma?
  • Did the trauma happen one time, or over a period of time?

Traumatic events can be life altering but many service members are incredibly resilient after experiencing trauma. Many service members can recover without the help of a professional, others may generally function well in their life, but can continue to experience symptoms in certain situations, and for some, MST may continue to affect their mental and physical health in significant ways, even many years later.

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Some of the SYMPTOMS of MST may include (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2017):

  • Strong emotions: feeling depressed, having intense, sudden emotional responses to things, feeling angry or irritable all the time
  • Feelings of numbness: feeling emotionally "flat", difficulty experiencing emotions like love or happiness
  • Trouble sleeping: trouble falling or staying asleep, disturbing nightmares
  • Difficulties with attention, concentration, and memory: trouble staying focused, frequently finding their mind wandering, having a hard time remembering things
  • Problems with alcohol or other drugs: drinking to excess or using drugs daily, getting intoxicated or "high" to cope with memories or emotional reactions, drinking to fall asleep
  • Difficulty with things that remind them of their experiences of sexual trauma: feeling on edge or "jumpy" all the time, difficulty feeling safe, going out of their way to avoid reminders of their experiences
  • Difficulties with relationships: feeling isolated or disconnected from others, abusive relationships, trouble with employers or authority figures, difficulty trusting others
  • Physical health problems: sexual difficulties, chronic pain, weight or eating problems, gastrointestinal problems

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is something that happened to you. It is NOT a diagnosis or a mental health condition. As with other traumatic experiences, there are a variety of reactions that service members can have in response to MST, so let’s dispel some myths upfront.

#1. Myth: I just had a bad sexual experience.

If you have found our page, that tells us that you think it’s possible that you had more than just a bad experience. It tells us that you think you may have been sexually assaulted.
Truth: Most sexual assaults that occur in the military are what we refer to as “acquaintance rape.” It is not a stranger who jumps out of the bushes and attacks you. It is a friend, a friends’ friend, someone in your unit, a superior, someone in the barracks, or someone you met at a bar. It can even be your significant other.

#2. Myth: I called / texted / emailed / visited my attacker afterward – so it must not have been a sexual assault.

Truth: Of course you did!!! That is a normal response to an acquaintance rape. These are people you are trained to trust with your life. People who would take a bullet for you. People who would kill for you. It takes time for your brain to accept the fact that someone who would lay down their life for you may have sexually assaulted you. In the meantime, it is a normal response to revisit the people, places, and things involved (especially if there was alcohol or drugs) while you try to piece together what happened.

#3. Myth: I didn’t get a rape kit done right away, so I wasn’t really assaulted and no one will believe me.

Truth: Fewer than 20% of rape victims get a medical examination within 24 hours of when a sexual assault occurs. Why? Because most victims of sexual assault don’t realize they have been assaulted until much later.

#4. Myth: Even if I report my sexual assault, nothing will happen to my offender.

Truth: Unfortunately, this can be a true statement. However, 5PALMS is dedicated to educating the military justice system and commands about normal reactions to sexual assault, as well as lobbying for legislative change regarding the Good Soldier Defense and command authority over sexual assault cases. We are committed to making changes!

#5. Myth: I was sexually assaulted by someone in my chain of command, so there isn’t anyone I can report to.

Truth: That is one of the hardest situations to be in, and you can feel completely helpless. Fortunately, we at 5PALMS are fearless advocates when it comes to the Military Justice System, and we are here to support you.

#6. Myth: Everyone in my unit knows that I was sexually assaulted, and now they hate me.

Truth: It’s possible that people know you were involved in an incident. Any victim of a military sexual assault is eligible for a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) because of their assault (we can help you initiate this). They are also entitled to a Compassionate Reassignment if they chose to stay in the military (we can help you initiate this).


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