Engaging Veteran communities to create a PTSD-related research agenda informed by COVID-19

Military and Veterans
Military and Veterans
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Beth A. Pratt

Section Editor: Emre Umucu

POSTTRAUMTIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD) IS A DEVASTATING TRAUMA AND STRESSOR-RELATED DISORDER affecting up to 30% of veterans (Gradus, 2021). PTSD is characterized by re-experiencing trauma in flashbacks or dreams, avoidance behavior, distorted sense of self-blame, and hypervigilance (American Psychological Association [APA], 2017). People living with PTSD often experience an inability to regulate emotions and control impulsive and self-destructive behaviors as well as an increase in suicidal ideations, attempts, and death by suicide (Stanley et al., 2019). Unfortunately, Veterans with PTSD who have few social connections and experience high levels of loneliness endure adverse effects on their mental health and well-being which has been exacerbated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic (Fein-Schaffer et al., 2022; Hill et al., 2021; Murphy et al., 2022).

Prior to the pandemic, Veterans with PTSD reported significantly higher incidence of loneliness and mental health challenges compared to the civilian population (Ypsilanti et al., 2020). During the pandemic, many Veterans with PTSD experienced increased feelings of loneliness related to the implementation of social isolation measures to combat COVID-19 and the challenges of navigating mental health challenges in the changing health care landscape (Mattek et al., 2020). Veterans’ overall mental health and well-being also declined due to adversities experienced throughout the pandemic such as financial, personal or professional complications, renegotiations of relationship roles, and the lack of established social support networks (Vick, 2020). Countless Veterans viewed the pandemic through the lens of prior wartime experience and were re-traumatized while cut off from essential social support (Gerber, 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant social isolation from support networks increased Veterans’ reluctance to receive aid and consequently decreased their access to quality health care thereby affecting mental health and well-being.

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