Post-traumatic Stress - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


Post-traumatic Stress

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that sometimes develops after exposure to a trauma or life-threatening event and may involve increased anxiety or jumpiness, trouble sleeping, numbed feelings, upsetting memories or nightmares of the event and lack of interest or pleasure in normal activities.

Why is it called “Disorder?” That makes it sound like there is a stigma, and makes me not want to get help.
The term “Disorder” comes from a naming style that is used for naming physical illnesses. This term is probably not the best fir for mental health concerns. Terms like “pattern” or “response” could have been used. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may be called a “Disorder” but it is important to recognize that the symptoms of PTSD are really normal responses to having lived through very abnormal events.

How do I know if I have PTSD?
You may experience upsetting memories or nightmares of the event, feel emotionally numbed, avoid reminders of the traumatic event, feel jumpy, have insomnia, have anger management problems, or experience persistent changes in the way that you think about yourself, others and the world.

How is PTSD diagnosed?  
PTSD is diagnosed by talking to a mental health professional who may conduct an assessment that entails an interview and your completion of questionnaires.

What causes PTSD? 
PTSD is caused by exposure to a traumatic or life-threatening event that overwhelms your capacity to cope with or resolve the event. 

Sneaky PTSD creeps up after retirement

Medical evacuation in VietnamBesides being cruel and potentially devastating, PTSD can be sneaky, and creep up on you years after combat. Randy Zemel, who gets his care at the Milwaukee VA, talks about how his PTSD from Vietnam only surfaced after he retired from his civilian job, and how he got help. Learn More.

I’ve heard people who claim PTSD are faking it. Is this really an issue?

There are some people who may exaggerate or even fake symptoms of PTSD for ulterior motives such as compensation.  However, it is important to note that very few people do this. PTSD is a very real and very treatable illness.

How many people who come back from war get PTSD?

Most people who get deployed to combat do not get PTSD.  The current estimates indicate up to 25 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan have PTSD.  Getting PTSD mostly depends on the experiences the service member had while deployed.

I’ve heard the VA underreports or purposely misdiagnoses PTSD to avoid payments, so how do I know you will accurately treat me?
Rest assured the Post-Deployed Mental Health team does everything it can to objectively and accurately assess and diagnose not only PTSD, but other issues related to PTSD such as substance abuse and dependence, depression and other forms of anxiety.

What are the signs of PTSD?

You may experience upsetting memories or nightmares of the event, feel emotionally numbed, avoid reminders of the traumatic event, feel jumpy, have insomnia, have anger management problems, or experience persistent changes in the way that you think about yourself, others and the world.

Does everybody who goes to war get PTSD?

No. Up to 75 percent do not, according to recent research. Getting PTSD mostly depends on the experiences the service member had while deployed.

How do some people avoid getting PTSD?

There are many factors which may determine if a particular person gets PTSD. However, what is most predictive of PTSD is exposure to trauma or life-threatening events.

What’s the difference from just being angry, having anxiety and having PTSD?

PTSD can involve having anger and anxiety, but also includes emotional numbing, avoidance and intrusive re-experiencing symptoms.

Sexual assault leads to PTSD, drug abuse

Brooke Millbocker and her brothersA huge PTSD misconception is it can only happen from war. PTSD can manifest from myriad traumatic events. Brooke Millbocker struggled for years because of a military sexual assault until she got help at the Milwaukee VA. Learn More.

I’m afraid my loved one has PTSD. But when I bring it up, he or she gets angry and shuts down. How can I help them?

You may feel helpless, but there are many things you can do. Nobody expects you to have all the answers. Here are ways you can help:

Learn as much as you can about PTSD. Knowing how PTSD affects people may help you understand what your family member is going through. The more you know, the better you and your family can handle PTSD. 

Offer to go to doctor visits with your family member. You can help keep track of medicine and therapy, and you can be there for support. 

Tell your loved one you want to listen and that you also understand if he or she doesn't feel like talking.

Plan family activities together, like having dinner or going to a movie.

Take a walk, go for a bike ride, or do some other physical activity together. Exercise is important for health and helps clear your mind.

Encourage contact with family and close friends. A support system will help your family member get through difficult changes and stressful times.

Your family member may not want your help. If this happens, keep in mind that withdrawal can be a symptom of PTSD. A person who withdraws may not feel like talking, taking part in group activities, or being around other people. Give your loved one space, but tell him or her that you will always be ready to help.

What can happen if I don’t receive treatment for my PTSD?
Symptoms of PTSD tend to not go away over time and in fact can worsen.  Avoiding reminders of your trauma and stressors in your life can contribute to decreased well-being and increased risk for depression and other problems. Please don’t be afraid to reach out. It takes the strength of a warrior to ask for help.

I’ve known Vietnam Veterans who said they have PTSD and never got treatment and seem fine. Can I do that?
Contacting a mental health professional and being assessed is often the best way to seek advice about what to do.  Symptoms of PTSD often wax and wane but typically do not go away over time without treatment.

What if I don’t want to go to the hospital for treatment? What can I do to manage this on my own?
It is strongly encouraged that you seek professional assistance, but learning about the disorder and options available is important. Please consider going to for more information.

I don’t want to get help for PTSD because I don’t want people to know I’m crazy. What if my boss or family finds out? I could lose my job. 
Your healthcare information is strictly confidential and cannot be released to your boss or family without your expressed written consent. Additionally, having PTSD does not mean you are “crazy.” It means you have been affected by very threatening and dangerous experiences.

If I do come in for treatment, what does the evaluation entail?
Your examiner may ask you questions about your symptoms, personal history and have you fill out questionnaires that assess symptoms.

What type of treatment options are there?
There are many good and effective treatments available for PTSD but specific options should only be considered after an assessment by your mental health provider.
Can I be cured of PTSD?
As PTSD is a normal response to an abnormal situation, people who seek treatment are often able to heal from the effects of their trauma and cope better with it in order to go on to live life to a full extent with less interference from symptoms.

I am against taking psychiatric pills for religious reasons. Are there any other things I can do to manage PTSD?
Engaging in psychotherapy is an effective treatment for PTSD with or without conjoint use of medication.
What is a major misperception about PTSD?
Major misconceptions of PTSD involve the idea that people with PTSD are about to snap or are dangerous or violent, or that symptoms never go away after having PTSD. In addition, prior to treatment, many with PTSD mistakenly assume they are “crazy.” PTSD is a very treatable illness. Not all wounds visible.

Tai chi calms images of death in Veteran's mind

George KoernerGeorge Koerner was haunted from the screams and death from a hangar fire in Korea in the 1960s. To this day, he can't sit by a campfire without remembering. He discovered tai chi at the Milwaukee VA as a way to calm his mind and sould. Learn More.

How often will I have to see a doctor or therapist for treatment?
This is difficult to determine but most treatments last about 12 to 50 sessions.

What are some other resources besides the VA that might be helpful?
There are support organizations outside of the VA that have been helpful to Veterans. Many Veterans find that engaging in healthy behaviors that contribute to overall well-being is helpful in coping with symptoms of PTSD (i.e., exercise, healthy eating, avoiding drugs or alcohol, etc.)

Nobody understands me unless they’ve been to war and have seen and done the things I’ve done. How can some civilian expect to understand and treat me?
While it is true that civilians cannot understand the rigors of deployment, trained professionals are empathic and accepting of your experiences and can help you to cope with your experiences better, as well as heal from them.

Can I request a specific doctor at the VA?
You may make a request, but we can’t guarantee you’ll get the doctor you requested.  Rest assured, our entire staff of competent clinicians has proven their ability to help Veterans, and we want to help you.

Anything else I should know?
The VA has 24-hour, seven-day-a-week mental health coverage.   You can obtain assistance for any mental health concerns by talking to your primary care doctor or any health professional at the VA.  Furthermore, our emergency department (extension 41885) is staffed during non-business hours with mental health professionals. Our Mental Health Urgent Care Clinic, which provides MH services on a walk-in basis from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., is also available.  Finally, you may contact our Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, text: 838255 or Chat: