United States Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Sierra Pacific Network (VISN 21)

Getting Help for Your Problems

  1. How can I talk to my doctor about my problems that I think might be related to a traumatic stress I experienced?

  2. How can a person find professional help after a traumatic event?

  3. What treatments are available for combat stress and PTSD?

  4. What happens in treatment for combat stress or PTSD?

  5. How is PTSD assessed and treated?

  6. What can I expect from an evaluation for PTSD?

  7. What is psychotherapy and how can it help treat PTSD?

  8. Who is available to provide psychotherapy?

  9. How do I find a qualified therapist?

  10. I've been having some serious problems since returning from war. My VA providers have been working hard to help me, but we just can't find the right answers. Where can I turn to next?

  11. I am an American Veteran. Who do I contact for help with combat stress or PTSD?

  12. As an American Veteran, how do I file a claim for disability due to PTSD?

  13. What are Vet Centers and do I have to be a Vet to go to one?


1.  How can I talk to my doctor about my problems that I think might be related to a traumatic stress I experienced?

The experiencing or witnessing of traumatic events can lead to psychological (emotional) problems and to physical problems (in addition to any that occurred at the time of the trauma). These symptoms can last for a relatively short time after the event, can last for months or years, or can "surface" months or even years later.

You may find it helpful to talk with your primary care physician about your experience(s) and any symptoms you have. You can help your doctor understand you and plan your treatment better by sharing this crucial information about yourself.  For a checklist of symptoms and additional information go to http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/fslist-ptsd-overview.asp

Return to Top

2.  How can a person find professional help after a traumatic event?

Listed below are some ways to find help. When you call, explain that you are trying to find a mental-health provider who specializes in helping people who have been through traumatic events and/or who have lost loved ones. Check this website regularly for updated information on how to get help. We will be listing more ways to get help as they become available.

Return to Top

3.  What treatments are available for combat stress and PTSD?

Elements common to many treatments for combat stress reactions and PTSD include education, exploration of feelings and beliefs related to the traumatic event, and coping skills training. Additionally, the most common treatment types include cognitive-behavioral treatment, pharmacotherapy, EMDR, group treatment, and psychodynamic treatment.

Return to Top

4.  What happens in treatment for combat stress or PTSD?

Treatment for PTSD focuses on helping the trauma survivor reduce fear and anxiety, gain control over their traumatic stress reactions, make sense of combat or other traumatic experiences, and function better at work and in their family. A standard course of treatment usually includes:

  • Assessment and development of an individual treatment plan
  • Education for the client and their family about traumatic stress and its effects
  • Training in relaxation methods, to help reduce physical arousal/tension
  • Practical instruction in skills for coping with anger, stress, and ongoing problems
  • Detailed discussions of feelings of anger or guilt, which are very common among survivors of war trauma
  • Detailed discussions to help change distressing beliefs about self and others (e.g., self-blame)
  • If appropriate, careful, repeated discussions of the trauma (exposure therapy) to help the service member reduce the fear associated with trauma memories
  • Medication to reduce anxiety, depression, or insomnia
  • Group support from other traumatic stress survivors (often felt to be the most valuable treatment experience)

Return to Top

5.  How is PTSD assessed and treated?

In recent years, a great deal of attention has been aimed at developing reliable assessment tools to aid in the diagnosis of PTSD. Today, there is a range of available measures that clinicians can use to diagnose PTSD. For more on how PTSD is assessed see the fact sheet on "Assessment of PTSD" below.

PTSD is treated with a variety of forms of mental health treatment, including psychotherapy and medication. Today there are some promising treatments that include cognitive behavioral interventions such as cognitive restructuring and exposure.  For more information on these treatments see the fact sheet on "Treatment options" below.

While it may be tempting to identify PTSD for yourself or someone you know, the diagnosis generally is made by a mental-health professional.  This will usually involve a formal evaluation by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker specifically trained to assess psychological problems.

Return to Top

6.  What can I expect from an evaluation for PTSD?

The nature of an evaluation for PTSD can vary widely depending on how the evaluation will be used and the training of the professional evaluator.  As part of a screening, an interviewer may take as little as 15 minutes to get a sense of your traumatic experiences and its effects.  On the other hand, a specialized PTSD assessment can last several hours and involve detailed, structured interviews and questionnaires.  Whatever the particulars of your situation, you should always be able to find out in advance from the professional conducting the evaluation what the assessment will involve and what information they will be looking for to determine a diagnosis.

Return to Top

7.  What is psychotherapy and how can it help treat PTSD?

Psychotherapy is meant to help with a person’s emotional, behavioral, or mental distress. In practice, psychotherapy is the relationship between a professional psychotherapist and a client who work together to make changes in the client’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. How the psychotherapist goes about helping a client will depend upon the client’s goals and the therapist's training and theoretical orientation. Theoretical underpinnings can determine what techniques a therapists uses and the focus of therapy, and they can affect the psychotherapist’s style of interaction.

However, sometimes a person’s diagnosis will influence the decision about what type of therapeutic orientation the person should engage in. PTSD is a good example of this type of diagnosis because there are many psychotherapeutic treatments that have been designed specifically to treat PTSD. A client’s response to treatment will have a lot to do with the unique values, hopes, and personality factors of that individual, but there are some treatments that have been rigorously studied and shown to be helpful for PTSD.

Return to Top

8.  Who is available to provide psychotherapy?

There are many different types of professionals qualified to practice mental health treatments (psychotherapy), including psychiatrists, doctoral-level clinicians, masters level clinicians, clinical social workers, clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, and marriage and family therapists. Below we describe some of the most common of these professionals.

Return to Top

9.  How do I find a qualified therapist?

Selecting a therapist is a highly personal matter. A professional who works very well with one individual may not be a good choice for another person. There are several ways to get referrals to qualified therapists such as licensed psychologists.

Listed below are some ways to find help. When you call, tell whomever you speak to that you are trying to find a mental-health provider who specializes in helping people who have been through traumatic events. Check this website regularly for updated information on how to get help. We will be listing more ways to get help as they become available.

Department of Veterans Affairs-Services Available for Veterans, Active duty, Guard, and Reserve

VA medical centers and Vet Centers provide veterans with mental-health services that health insurance will cover or that costs little or nothing, according to a veteran's ability to pay. VA medical centers and Vet Centers are listed in the phone book in the blue Government pages. Under "United States Government Offices," look in the section for "Veterans Affairs, Dept of." In that section look for VA Medical Centers and Clinics listed under "Medical Care" and for "Vet Centers - Counseling and Guidance," and call the one nearest to where you live. On the Internet, go to http://www.va.gov/ and look for the VHA Facilities Locator link under "Health Benefits and Services," or go to www.va.gov/rcs.

For more information see Specialized PTSD Treatment Programs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Return to Top

10.  I've been having some serious problems since returning from war. My VA providers have been working hard to help me, but we just can't find the right answers. Where can I turn to next?

The Department of Veterans Affairs is continually trying to learn more about the health conditions which may result from living and working in various theaters of operation.  Over time, on-going scientific research within the VA (and throughout the health-care field) will give VA clinicians a better understanding of the long-term effects of war on our patients.

If you feel you would like to participate in a war-related research study or if you have a difficult-to-diagnose war-related injury or condition, a VA War-Related Illness and Injury Center may be able to provide the help and information you need.    Please visit the following web site for more information:  http://www.va.gov/wriisc-dc/default.asp.

Return to Top

11.  I am an American Veteran. Who do I contact for help with combat stress or PTSD?

Selecting a therapist is a highly personal matter. A professional who works very well with one individual may not be a good choice for another person. There are several ways to get referrals to qualified therapists such as licensed psychologists.

Listed below are some ways to find help. When you call, tell whomever you speak to that you are trying to find a mental-health provider who specializes in helping people who have been through traumatic events. Check this website regularly for updated information on how to get help. We will be listing more ways to get help as they become available.

Department of Veterans Affairs-Services Available for Veterans, Active duty, Guard, and Reserve

VA medical centers and Vet Centers provide veterans with mental-health services that health insurance will cover or that costs little or nothing, according to a veteran's ability to pay. VA medical centers and Vet Centers are listed in the phone book in the blue Government pages. Under "United States Government Offices," look in the section for "Veterans Affairs, Dept of." In that section look for VA Medical Centers and Clinics listed under "Medical Care" and for "Vet Centers - Counseling and Guidance," and call the one nearest to where you live. On the Internet, go to http://www.va.gov/ and look for the VHA Facilities Locator link under "Health Benefits and Services," or go to www.va.gov/rcs.

For more information see Specialized PTSD Treatment Programs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Return to Top

12.  As an American Veteran, how do I file a claim for disability due to PTSD?

A determination of "service-connected" disability for PTSD is made by the Compensation and Pension Service -- an arm of VA's Veterans Benefits Administration. The clinicians who provide care for veterans in VA's specialized PTSD clinics and Vet Centers do not make this decision. A formal request ("claim") must be filed by the veteran using forms provided by the VA's Veterans Benefits Administration. After the forms are completely submitted, the veteran must complete interviews concerning her or his "social history" (a review of family, work, and educational experiences before, during, and after military service) and "psychiatric status" (a review of past and current psychological/emotional symptoms, and of traumatic experiences during military service). The forms and information about the application process can be obtained by Benefits Officers at any VA Medical Center, Outpatient Clinic, or Regional Office.

The process of applying for a VA disability for PTSD can take several months, and can be both complicated and quite stressful. The Veteran's Service Organizations provide "Service Officers" at no cost to help veterans and family members pursue VA disability claims. Service Officers are familiar with every step in the application and interview process, and can provide both technical guidance and moral support. In addition, some Service Officers particularly specialize in assisting veterans with PTSD disability claims. Even if a veteran has not been a member of a specific Veterans Service Organization, the veteran still can request the assistance of a Service Officer working for that organization. In order to get representation by a qualified and helpful Service Officer, you can directly contact the local office of any Veterans Service Organization -- or ask for recommendations from other veterans who have applied for VA disability, or from a PTSD specialist at a VA PTSD clinic or a Vet Center.

Return to Top

13.  What are Vet Centers and do I have to be a Vet to go to one?

Vet Centers are part of the Department of Veterans Affairs Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS).  Vet Centers were started in the 1970s in response to the needs of Vietnam-era veterans who wanted services directly in their home communities.  Vet Centers are often located in homes or “store fronts” in over 200 communities nationwide.  Vet Centers can provide many supportive services to include counseling, support groups, couples counseling, referral sources, camaraderie, and a place to “come home”.

Return to Top