Veterans Trauma-Informed Care: What You Need to Know

With all too many Veterans suffering from PTSD, the right care is important.

Here’s what you need to know about Veterans trauma-informed care and how it can help.

The US servicemember is often in an unenviable position: their risk of being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is much higher than the average American, due to their service to their country. In fact, the National Center for PTSD reported that in 2018 up to 20 percent of recent servicemembers have been diagnosed with PTSD.

The Center also estimates that as many as 30 percent of Vietnam War Veterans have suffered from PTSD in their lifetimes as well. Even more may be suffering from PTSD without a diagnosis. This is where Veterans trauma-informed care seeks to change things.

veterans trauma informed care

What is Veterans Trauma-Informed Care?

As a new, more all-encompassing field of human services, trauma-informed care – especially Veterans trauma-informed care – approaches care from an understanding point of view. Consideration of how trauma can be so pervasive and how to promote an environment of recovery and healing, instead of relying on services and practices that may re-traumatize inadvertently, are central to trauma-informed care.

In clearer terms, this type of care seeks to move the cultural emphasis away from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what’s happened to you?”

Trauma-informed care revolves around the assumption that, while not everyone has a history of trauma, the standing assumption is that this history is more likely than not. It prioritizes recognizing trauma symptoms when present and places a heavy emphasis on how trauma plays a role in the life of an individual – including those that have served in the armed forces.

This is why new approaches to Veteran care have been enthusiastically adopting methods that rely on Veterans trauma-informed care methods, pushing towards changing organizational cultures to emphasize respect and appropriate response to how trauma effects our Veterans on all different levels.

Preventing Re-Traumatization

There’s a lot of intention behind Veterans trauma-informed care. One of the biggest goals of this approach is to avoid re-traumatizing Veterans who are suffering from PTSD. In practice, this means reducing the possibility of triggering symptoms of PTSD and making them worse.

This is a big ask, as there’s always the potential for re-traumatization as a result of care.

The goal is to prevent as much re-traumatization as possible. There are obvious and not-so-obvious triggers when it comes to PTSD trauma – specific sounds or even smells can bring a Veteran back to the same mental and emotional place they were at the onset of the original trauma, and it can be hard to avoid. It’s a serious concern of trauma-informed care and one that’s taken incredibly seriously.

trauma informed care veterans
No one experiences PTSD the same way, so a cookie-cutter approach will never work.

Someone who’s re-traumatized multiple times, either by accident or not, often see their trauma-related symptoms get that much worse. They also often feel even less interested in seeking treatment.

This is why Veterans trauma-informed care takes re-traumatization so seriously. The goal is to help PTSD sufferers in any way possible, not make things worse. This requires a smart, sensitive, and above all, flexible approach to some very real, very serious problems. No one experiences PTSD the same way, so a cookie-cutter approach will never work.

Veterans Trauma-Informed Care’s Six Principles

Trauma-informed care is different in that it doesn’t have hard and fast rules. The nature of PTSD is so mutable that no one approach will be applicable to two different people suffering from it. Instead, there are six guiding principles that can be adapted and interpreted in ways that make for a better use in the specific setting it’s being employed, and for the individual that needs the help.

These principles – trustworthiness, safety, empowerment, peer support, collaboration, and choice, are all crucial in helping Veterans, or anyone else for that matter, struggling with PTSD.

  • Trustworthiness

    Trust is often in short supply with anyone suffering from PTSD, and Veterans even more so. A Veteran needs to know the person they’re talking to can be trusted, can be confided in, and can be believed to have their best interests at heart.
  • Safety

    Often the first and most important step when it comes to providing trauma-informed care. Trauma often involves being unsafe in the environment and feeling unsafe in abusive relationships.

    It’s important that both the physical safety and the emotional safety of someone suffering from PTSD is secured.
  • Empowerment

    Powerlessness is a major component of PTSD. It’s hard to work on skills to cope with trauma if you are feeling a sense of worthlessness. That’s why trauma-informed care always focuses on ways to help PTSD sufferers feel empowered to make positive change in their lives.
  • Peer Support

    Peer support and mutual self-help and effective ways to build rapport and trust. The military experience, especially for those who were in combat, is far from what civilians witness and therefore it is more difficult for rapport. In veteran services, working with a peer is a key vehicle for building a safe and open relationship.
  • Collaboration

    PTSD can be an incredibly isolating experience Veterans. PTSD sufferers benefit from being provided a collaborative experience so that they can see they’re not alone in what they’re going through. Resilience is built when one is given a voice and allowed to participate in determining their own treatment for healing.
  • Choice

    If you suffer from PTSD, you often feel trapped with no real options, lost without any control over the situation. This is why trauma-informed care has to ensure there are choices to select from to provide individuals a sense of control over themselves and their environment.

Finding Veterans Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care works, which is why it’s become such a popular approach. However, this is still a relatively new care system, and it’s still in its relative infancy. This means it can sometimes be hard to find service providers that subscribe to this method, especially when it comes to Veterans. The VA takes PTSD seriously – but the wheels of bureaucracy turn very slowly, as anyone who’s served in the US military knows all too well.

In the years to come, it’s likely that the US government will pivot to a trauma-informed care approach to its Veterans. Until it does, however, if you’re looking for Veteran trauma-informed care you may be able to find it elsewhere. While most treatment for PTSD involves therapy, trauma-informed care doesn’t necessarily begin and end at the doors to your therapist. As PTSD triggers can be anywhere, doctor’s offices and places of work can adopt a trauma-informed care approach to help patients and employees feel safer and empowered as well.

The National Veterans Foundation – There for You

Are you a Veteran struggling with PTSD? There’s no shame in looking for help – especially if you haven’t found the type of Veterans trauma-informed care that you need. The National Veterans Foundation can help you get the care you need when you need it. The NVF – because we don’t leave anyone behind. We are built on the core principles of trauma-informed care, and you will find a caring Veteran when you call.

For agencies that work with Veterans, the National Veterans Foundation offers trauma-informed training and consultation. Contact us today.

Please donate now to help our mission of trauma-informed veteran care.