Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Combat Fatigue, Soldiers Heart: PTSD by Any Other Name…

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a life-altering condition that can stem from any type of traumatic experience. Much of our current knowledge about PTSD comes from research on service members and veterans of war. This research has determined that combat and other lifespan traumas and PTSD are highly prevalent among veterans who have had contact with the criminal justice system, through incarceration and otherwise.

As a center of learning, innovation, and leadership that shapes and advances correction practice and public policy, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) continues to address the critical needs of justice-involved veterans and the corrections professionals who work with them. It is estimated that veterans represent 7 to 8 percent of the criminal justice system. The prevalence of PTSD among veterans ranges from 10 to 30 percent, depending upon the magnitude of exposure they have had to war zone stressors. One misconception about PTSD among veterans is that it afflicts only those who directly experienced combat. Personnel in non-combat but equally key roles can also experience severe trauma. Medical staff in field hospitals, for example, can become overwhelmed by the horrific injuries they treat. Transportation drivers can become terrified by driving on a highway or a quiet country lane due to prior encounters with improvised explosive devices and/or roadside bombs during their deployment in a combat zone.

PTSD among veterans is often a lifespan mental and behavioral health burden. If not addressed early, PTSD can become entrenched and affect quality of life and functioning. There is also a high risk for self-medication and abuse of alcohol and/or drugs, loss of stable housing, unemployment, suicidal ideation, and involvement in the criminal justice system.

After serving in the military, many veterans feel a sense of camaraderie among other who have served; when they return home, they can feel isolated, lonely, and misunderstood among others without a military history. Our goal at NIC is to advance practices and help educate the field about the underlying mental health issues related to military service and how to best work with the veterans in our criminal justice populations. NIC’s efforts aim to improve public safety by holding justice-involved veterans accountable while – at the same time – provide opportunities to help veterans rehabilitate, find their sense of purpose again, and return to their families and communities ready to thrive.

Symptoms of PTSD

  • Re-experience trauma through flashbacks or nightmares
  • Emotional numbness
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulties in relationships
  • Sudden anger
  • Drug /Alcohol misuse
  • Reckless and self-destructive behavior

Main Treatments for PTSD

  • Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
  • Prolonged exposure therapy
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

More about symptoms and treatment for PTSD can be found on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website:

NIC has a variety of resources available to the field on its Justice-Involved Veterans Microsite. These resources are designed to help criminal justice agencies implement or improve upon veteran-specific programming and to bring awareness to issues like PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and other service-related mental health issues. Our veterans microsite can be accessed here:

Additional resources for PTSD can be found at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD:

If you or a some you know has been diagnosed with PTSD or may be suffering from symptoms of PTSD, please encourage them to seek help through the VA or other community resources.

an older man sitting in a chair, facing a therapist as light shines on them through the blinds, the room behind them is dark indicating something deeper going on