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People exposed to a life-threatening traumatic event, such as combat, genocide, rape, assault, or a serious accident will have physical and emotional reactions to their experience.  For some, the effects of the event, and their reactions to it, will be short-lived.  For others, the trauma will continue to disturb them and influence their actions and feelings for years.

The long-term emotional response to a traumatic event is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  This anxiety-related disorder was officially identified after the Vietnam War.  Although not fully understood or recognized until after Vietnam, the emotional effects of war have been with us throughout the ages.  Many classic stories of war and its effect on warriors are a part of our culture and literature.

During the Civil War, what is now recognized as PTSD was commonly called “melancholy.”  In World War I, the condition was referred to as “shell shock.”  Then, World War II and Korea gave us the terminology “combat fatigue.”  However, it was not until after Vietnam that the long-term effects of combat trauma were fully understood and began to be effectively treated. For most of us, even though we may not have known it then and may continue to deny it now, serving in combat was a turning point in our lives.  In ways most of our civilian brethren can never understand, we experienced losses during our military service that can endure a lifetime.

Our losses during combat ranged from the intangible loss of innocence and years of our life devoted to military service, to the very real and devastating loss of friends.  Never again will the world seem as safe and secure for us as it had before our time in combat.  At a very young age, we learned that bad things do happen to good people and that we can do very bad things as well.

"I am part of all that I have met."

Tennyson, Ulysses

© The PTSD Help Network, 2013