Possibly one of the most agitating side effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in combat veterans is an overwhelming feeling of guilt. The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs reports that one in five combat veterans develops PTSD, either during or shortly after combat, and the Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as having three main categories of symptoms: “re-experiencing symptoms,” “avoidance symptoms,” and “hyperarousal symptoms”. These categories can be simplified to describe symptoms of flashbacks and nightmares, feeling of guilt and depression, and insomnia, respectively.

But when analyzing PTSD as a whole, we discover that the feelings of intense guilt do not just belong in the “avoidance symptoms” category. In fact, feelings of guilt can help contribute to most if not all side-effects to PTSD, especially insomnia and flashbacks to the traumatic event. So how can a combat veteran work through his or her feelings of guilt that they adopted because of their time at war?

Over the years, Oprah has sponsored several professionals who specialize in the guilt department—that is, people who directly and intimately work with others to help them overcome their guilt. Oprah invited Iyanla Vanzant, an author and motivational speaker to share her personal motto in terms of how she approaches guilt.

“Guilt is a wasted emotion!” Vanzant exclaims during her TV interview on Oprah’s talk show which aired last summer. She believes that guilt is nothing more than a waste of time, and instead of drowning in their self-pity, people should use that mental energy to do something about it.

But before she reveals her coping techniques, Oprah asked the three main reasons people develop feelings of guilt. Not so surprisingly, combat veterans can directly relate to all three of these reasons, which again explains why their cases of PTSD can only be fueled by their feelings of guilt.

The first reason why Vanzant says people develop guilt is because “they know better”. Meaning, they knew that what they were doing was wrong, but yet they went ahead and did it anyway. Combat veterans are conditioned to operate in this sort of manner while they participate in military training prior to their actual deployment. In the civilian world, they knew that hurting and killing others was wrong, yet in the military, those objectionable tasks are expected of each combat soldier. So while soldiers do indeed “know better” because of what their civilian morals have taught them, they must go ahead and commit those acts of murder and abuse anyway because that is what some military duty calls for.

These factors of violence directly link to Vanzant’s next reason as to why people develop guilt. “Caus[ing] hurt, harm or injury to someone else” has a ferocious impact on the human psyche, since we have been condition not to hurt others, especially physically, under any circumstances. But again, combat veterans cannot avoid this consequence of war, and are therefore haunted by their acts of violence against others, especially innocent civilians like women and children who then became victims of war.

The third reason for people to develop guilt is “you disappointed someone”. While in context Vanzant was addressing her mother as the person who was disappointed, a veteran can easily be disappointed in themselves for who they have become as a result of war. Or perhaps a veteran’s friend (perhaps even in combat), family or spouse does not condone their actions during combat.

In order to effectively deal with these symptoms of guilt, Vanzant says to “substitute [the guilt] with something active that can help you move on”. For veterans, this could be “self-forgiveness,” as Vanzant advises. Or perhaps veterans can take an active role in their recovery by consulting with a psychiatrist to conduct talk-therapy and prescribe certain medications to help ease the pain and transition back into civilian life again.

However, veterans should be wary of seeking this sort of treatment through the VA, since reports released by CNN in 2012 revealed that medical professionals associated with the VA prescribed 259% more narcotics than in 2002, and that individualized therapy had fallen by the wayside. Therefore, ailing soldiers and veterans who suffer from PTSD might want to consider consulting outside organizations to rehabilitate their physical and mental health.

One of those organizations is Operation: I.V, a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2012 that helps combat veterans heal from both PTSD as well as traumatic brain injuries. Its founder, Roxann Abrams, is a Gold Star Mother who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams in 2009. Randy took his own life after experiencing a PTSD flashback from his service in Iraq. Randy had undiagnosed PTSD- a common occurrence among combat veterans either due to mistakes made by the medical field or simply the individual’s failure to report such grave symptoms.

As a result of her son’s death, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. so that combat veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have a place to receive treatment through a specialized “VIP”, or “Veteran Intervention Plan” program. “VIP” offers ten different rehabilitation programs, including hyperbolic oxygen therapy, service dogs, and anxiety reduction therapy. Additionally, veterans may also partake in programs such as job retraining, business mentoring, and educational assistance. Again, while there is no cure for PTSD, the programs provided by Operation: I.V. can drastically improve a veteran’s mental health and overall outlook on life!

Author's Bio: 

Abigail Fazelat is a contributing writer for Operation: I.V., a non-profit organization founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to PTSD. Randy took his own life after experiencing a wartime flashback- an experience not uncommon to any combat veteran. As a result, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. as an “intravenous of help” for other Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and contemplating suicide. Fazelat has worked for the organization since October 2013 under a pseudonym.