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Impact of Trauma on the Military

By Major Daniel A. Smith, CA Officer B Co 478th Civil Affairs Battalion Airborne
The impact of trauma on the military is significant. Members of the military and first responders are routinely exposed to traumatic events. In addition, they often make life and death decisions in a split-second, with little margin for error. As a result, it is no surprise that these loyal servants are at increased risk for behavioral health issues. Plus, they have long-term capacity for traumatic stress.

For example, the Harvard Review of Psychiatry notes studies that show law enforcement officers, EMTs and firefighters develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at rates ranging from 6% to 32%. For the military, studies show the PTSD rate of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans between 20% and 30%. In contrast, approximately 7% of adults in the United States will develop PTSD at some point in their lifetime.

Also, other mental health issues include depression, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, secondary trauma, addiction, chronic stress, combat and operational stress response (COSR), moral injury, military sexual trauma, compassion fatigue and suicide.

In addition, military families during deployment and after deployment also have poorer mental health, including behavior problems in children, trauma, and higher risk of divorce and suicide.

Getting Help for the Impact of Trauma on the Military

Used to being the rescuers, service members often do not seek help for themselves.

As a result, the Department of Defense and other agencies have been working to mitigate the pain and mental health problems associated with service members. It is important to find remedies beyond surgery and prescription drugs. Yoga and mindfulness meditation have been found to be legitimate treatments for PTSD, pain management and more. As a result, yoga is frequently offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs as part of their “Whole Health Initiative.”

In a study by Military Medicine, a 12-week yoga program for symptoms of PTSD showed yoga improved the hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD and overall sleep quality. The benefits are critical, as PTSD has been linked to record-high suicide rates among veterans. Also, PTSD affects the central nervous system, which dysregulates systems all over the entire body.

Science-backed studies show that yoga:

  • Calms the nervous system by activating the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Lowers stress and builds resilience
  • May help anxiety and shows a significant decrease in symptoms and measurable biomarkers
  • Boosts mood and energy by releasing feel-good chemicals, including adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine
  • Helps with focus and attention
  • Boosts memory by increasing gray matter in key areas of the brain
  • Helps improve sleep
  • Increases flexibility, strength, functional fitness and balance
  • Promotes bone health, and keeps joints and connective tissues healthy
  • Helps manage pain
  • Supports healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular health

Help for the Military

In addition to mental impacts, studies show that nearly 45% of soldiers and 50% of veterans experience pain regularly. Also, there is a significant correlation among chronic pain, PTSD and post-concussive symptoms such as fatigue, poor balance, sleep disturbances and depression.

As a result, other studies have looked at mindfulness, meditation and physical yoga training for the military before deployment. One study analyzed blood and saliva samples, brain imaging and a range of cognitive performance tests and determined the training better prepared troops with greater reactivity, better emotion and stress management, enhanced heart rate and breath recovery, and reduced anxiety. Also, they were better able to recuperate faster to handle additional stressors.

As a result, half of existing U.S. military treatment facilities recommend yoga to patients to help mitigate the impact of trauma on the military. Programs like Warriors at Ease, Veterans Yoga Project, Exalted Warrior Foundation, VETOGA, Connected Warriors and others provide and promote trauma-informed yoga to help the military and veterans. These programs, like service members and first responders, welcome your support.

The article appeared in The Naples Daily News.

About the Author

Officer Smith has served on three oversees deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Qatar. He has been practicing yoga, breathwork and meditation for three years. Smith and his wife, Lindsay, created Vibe Yoga Studio in Fort Myers and offer free yoga and meditation to veterans and first responders weekly at the studio and monthly off-site to installations and locations globally.

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