The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs reports that one in five combat veterans develops Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, either during or shortly after combat. 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. For many veterans, these symptoms can cause intense feelings of alienation, which, if left unchecked, can cause a veteran to spiral into deep mental disturbance, illness, and even thoughts of suicide.
It is a common fact that a person who becomes chronically socially isolated falls victim to a premature death. Why? Social interaction boosts a person’s mood, outlook on life, and gives them proper affection and companionship that wards off depression and strengthens a person’s sense of reality.

In fact, a Psychology Today article called “Eight Tips to Maintain Friendships” recounts how “Studies show that if you have five or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter you’re far more likely to describe yourself as “very happy”. So what are some of the elements that can strengthen a veteran’s social connections in order to improve their overall physical and mental health?

One way is to maintain strong, close, and consistent connections with specific people. The article references utilizing many social media outlets in order to keep in touch with others, but this method should not be the only source of “interaction” between individuals. It is much more enriching and nurturing for a person to experience authentic and physical interactions with other human beings face-to-face rather than from behind computer screens.

Interestingly, the article advises against keeping a few close friends rather than a bunch of “superficial friendships”. But why have a few close friendships become “false choices”? Don’t overthink it—the idea is to simply keep an open mind when it comes to connecting with others. That is, make friends at work, keep in touch with those from school, past residencies, etc. While these relationships are not necessarily deep and meaningful, they can nonetheless add “color and warmth” to a person’s life.

These tips, along with the six others mentioned in the article, can certainly begin to transform an ailing veteran’s lifestyle once lead by consistent isolation and alienation. However, building friendships should not be used as the only method to treat PTSD. No, veterans who suffer from PTSD should seek medical attention as soon as possible to catch their symptoms relatively early before they develop into seriously debilitating mental problems.

However, veterans who suffer from PTSD are strongly discouraged from seeking medical attention by ways of the VA. Reports released by CBS News in 2013 revealed that medical professionals associated with the VA prescribed 259% more narcotics than in 2002, and that individualized therapy had fallen by the wayside. A medical practitioner associated with the VA anonymously admitted to CBS News in a TV interview that “it is easier to write a prescription for narcotics and to just move along and get to the next patient” so that more veterans would be “treated”. This news outbreak, coupled with the 2014 VA scandal, hopefully cause ailing veterans to consult non-associated medical facilities 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.