(Photo:Flickr/The U.S Army)

Although June is officially recognized as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, the American Counseling Association asks its members to keep those struggling with the disorder – especially America’s military veteran population – in their minds throughout the entire year.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius recognized the month in a public statement on June 6:



“Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects 1 in 29 Americans, from our country’s service men and women to abused children and survivors of rape, domestic violence and natural disasters.  During PTSD Awareness Month in June, and throughout the year, we recognize the millions of Americans who experience this challenging and debilitating condition.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that some people develop after seeing or living through an event that caused or threatened serious harm or death. PTSD may result in sleep problems, irritability, anger, recurrent dreams about the trauma, intense reactions to reminders of the trauma, disturbances in relationships and isolation. Some people may recover a few months after the event, but for others it may take years. For some, PTSD may begin long after the events occur.

PTSD can be treated. Effective treatments are available, such as exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and approved medications.  Many people with PTSD also benefit from peer support.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Defense (DOD), are supporting new research to reveal the underlying causes of PTSD and related conditions, develop better tools to identify those at highest risk of developing the disorder, and develop new and better treatments and preventive interventions. As part of the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law, HHS is partnering with DOD and the VA to share our best ideas on how to improve the quality of health care for veterans and all Americans.”

ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan believes more can be done for veterans challenged by PTSD.

“When it comes to military veterans, the government needs to focus more on providing service than on a PR campaign,” he says. “Due to a shortage of mental health providers in the VA, veterans with PTSD wait months to get help – if they get any help at all.  In the meantime, the chronic and severe PTSD that is the natural result of multiple deployments leads to veterans who are homeless and sleep under bridges, are abusive and violent toward their partners and children, have chronic alcohol and other substance abuse problems, and commit suicide. A veteran kills himself or herself every 80 minutes. Despite the fact that 82,000 military PTSD cases have been diagnosed since 2000 – 7,100 in 2011 alone – the VA refuses to hire professional counselors, the very group that the VA itself has deemed qualified. The VA needs to fix their broken system and hire professional counselors to meet the needs of those who have served and sacrificed for our country.  A PR campaign to promote PTSD Awareness Month pales in comparison and, quite frankly, is a distraction from the very real problems faced by the VA in serving veterans with PTSD.  ACA is committed to a full-court press with the military to have professional counselors fill the mental health vacancies within the VA so that veterans with PTSD can receive the respect and assistance that they deserve. Counselors and the public need to know that PTSD is eminently treatable and that we know how to help.”

ACA is currently conducting an aggressive outreach campaign to various media markets to highlight the fact that the VA has been falling behind in its efforts to recruit and obtain all available mental health clinicians, specifically licensed professional counselors.

Art Terrazas, ACA grassroots advocacy coordinator, says he is thankful to see the public taking time to reflect on PTSD.

“For years, veterans have suffered from some sort of PTSD and have not received the help they need,” he says. “We used to call it different names like ‘shell shock’ or just look at it as a general depression, but now we can all benefit from having an open and honest conversation about PTSD, its causes and effects, and how we can treat our veterans and service members. Overall, recognizing the issue and removing the stigma of PTSD is an important first step to getting help for those who wore the uniform. No service member or veteran should have to suffer in silence from PTSD anymore, and that’s what this month is all about and what we should remember all year long.”

To learn more about PTSD and how to treat clients who have the disorder, members can take PTSD 101, a web-based curriculum from the National Center for PTSD that offers courses related to PTSD and trauma. Continuing education (CE) credits are available for most courses.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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