FamilyOfaVet - Real world info about PTSD, TBI, & life after combat
FamilyOfaVet - Real World info about PTSD, TBI, & life after combat.

PTSD Symptoms:
Clinical vs. Real World Terms

Clinical terms for PTSD can be difficult to understand and even more difficult to explain to
others.  Here are some simple real word examples of what each “clinical” word means to
help you to explain it to family members, children, and others in your community.

PTSD has three main sets of symptoms: psychological, behavioral, and physical.  

Psychological Symptoms of PTSD


The Veteran is no longer able to look forward to events in the future.  He or she may also
have difficulty enjoying or being excited about things currently happening.  There is no joy
to be found in anything or if happiness is found, it’s in a very small amount – almost as if
it's in a faraway dream.


The Veteran worries excessively over things you may not have even considered before.  
These worries can begin to take over their life and control their actions.


Veterans usually experience one or both of two kinds of guilt.  One being guilt over what
they had to do in combat to survive.  The other is what’s referred to as “Survivor’s Guilt”
which is feeling guilty because they survived whereas their friends or co-workers did not.

Avoidance/Lack of Emotion

This Veteran seems to be shutting down.  They avoid any situation that could cause a
symptom to arise or emotion to “bubble up”.  They may stop responding to emotional
situations altogether and withdraw into themselves during emotional times rather than
communicate with a loved one or trusted friend.

Intrusive Thoughts

This is a “hallmark” symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder based on Hollywood’s
version and is your stereotypical “flashback”.  Real “flashbacks” can be just thinking about
the situation to actually believing you are reliving the event.  These situation the Veteran
was in creep into their thoughts without them trying to bring them to the surface.


This can be a “flashback” of reliving an event or seeing and/or hearing other things that
are not there.  These can be very traumatizing and challenging for a Veteran to deal with
and are often one of the most frightening portions of PTSD.  

Behavioral Symptoms of PTSD

Extreme Rage

The Veteran is experiencing huge amounts of anger over “minor” things that would never
have bothered them in the past.  “Little” things are suddenly a HUGE trigger for gigantic
screaming matches over what is, in reality, nothing.

Short Fuse

The Veteran is going from being relaxed or only mildly irritated to “Extreme Rage” as
above in a matter of seconds.  This can be described as a “blowing up” in some families.  
It's like lighting a match to a tank of gasoline and it just explodes.


The Veteran is pulling away from everyone.  He or she is no longer able to share thoughts,
feeling, or emotions with those he or she loves.  They also may not want to be physically
close to anyone and begin to sleep in a different portion of the house, work extended
hours, and find other ways to just not be there.

Alcohol or Drug Abuse / Dependence

The Veteran is using alcohol or drugs (illegal or non-prescribed prescription) to mask their
symptoms and cover up issues they do not want to face.  This is commonly “jokingly”
called “self-medicating”.  

Always Being on Guard (Hypervigilance)

The PTSD Veteran is constantly scanning crowds, traffic, and other areas for potential
threats.  A bag sitting in the middle of the street is seen as a potential bomb.  A person in
an airport is “suspicious”.  

Feeling Numb

The Veteran is not feeling emotions normally.  They feel very little emotion if any at all
toward the people and activities around them.  They often seem vacant and like a hollow

Memory Problems

The Veteran is struggling to remember things.  Things are constantly being lost,
conversations are forgotten, and little details like their phone number are difficult to
remember.  This may lead to aggression and frustration because of the lack of ability to
recall information the Veteran knows should be available to him or her.

Lack of Concentration

The Veteran is unable to concentrate in one or more areas.  They may be struggling at
work and having poor performance, struggling in school, or not be able to concentrate on
their favorite hobbies to completion.


The Veteran may be experiencing extremely disturbing dreams.  These may or may not be
directly associated with combat.  They can be combined with other symptoms.  The
nightmares can include sleepwalking and physical aggression in their sleep.

Unable to Fall Asleep or Stay Asleep (Insomnia)

The Veteran is having difficulty falling asleep in the evening.  It may feel like their brain
“just won’t shut off”.  They lie awake for hours despite being utterly exhausted. Veterans
may also get up while still awake or from being asleep to check that doors and windows
are locked, family members are all present and accounted for, and other “odd” but logical
nighttime “concerns”.

Being Easily Startled / Increased Startle Response

The Veteran is easily “spooked” reacting in a large way to loud noises that sound similar to
explosions, gun fire or other “combat sounds”.  Some common “everyday” noises that
cause this are a car backfiring, a balloon popping, fireworks and even bubble wrap.  

Low Self-Esteem

The Veteran feels they are not worth anything to society anymore.  They may feel the loss
of their job in military service or be concerned about their abilities being compromised due
to disabilities.  They may feel very “low” or “down in the dumps”.  

Feeling Hopeless About the Future

The Veteran feels that nothing positive lies before them any longer, as if there is no good
in the world nor any good things to come.  They become lost in a sea of nothing.


Not wanting to see/hear anything that reminds you of your deployment.  The Veteran
avoids the news, movies, and other things that would remind them of their deployment.  
They may avoid memorabilia in the house, friends who were deployed with them, and
become agitated when confronted with these items.  They may also try to avoid people
who remind them of those who were in the location where they were deployed.

Lack of Appetite

The Veteran may barely be eating enough to stay alive.  Their emotions have left them not
desiring food or even, at times, repulsed by the thought of having to eat.

Overeating / Gorging

The Veteran may be “self-medicating” with food drowning their pain by endlessly eating.  
Sometimes this is combined or alternates with lack of appetite.

Physical Symptoms of PTSD


The Veteran may experience anything from a minor headache to migraines that last for
days.  The headaches may be connected with other symptoms or appear and disappear
on their own.

Rapid Heart Rate or Sweating

The Veteran may experience profuse sweating and or “feel” or “hear” their heartbeat when
they are reminded of their trauma or while they are experiencing other symptoms.  Some
Veterans report that they experience this symptom without it being connected to the
traumatic event and will break out in a sweat and begin to hyperventilate (feel short of
breath) even when they are not remembering the event.  This can be incredibly distressing
to them because it “has no reason”.

This article was written by our own Heather Hummert, the wife of an OIF Veteran & Purple
Heart Recipient.  If you would like to contact Heather directly, you can e-mail her at
Heather -at- or

CLICK HERE to return to the Real-Life Coping Skills for PTSD page
About This Site  |  Media Room  |  Contact Us  |  Site Map  |  Link Share  |  Spread the Word

If you have questions or concerns about this site, please e-mail us at Info -at-
Family Of a Vet, Inc., is a federally recognized 501(c)3 non-profit corporation.  
All donations to Family Of a Vet are tax deductible.  For more information about supporting the work we do,
This page dedicated to helping Veterans and their loved ones learn more about the symptoms of PTSD. welcomes and encourages the off-line distribution of content from its website through appropriate channels but no use is granted without our specific permission. Please contact us by e-mail at Permissions -at- stating the specific content to be used and place and means of off-line distribution. Webmasters, bloggers, etc., wishing to use a limited amount of content from our site for non-commercial, on-line purposes may do so as long as a backlink to our site is provided. © Copyright 2007 - / Family Of a Vet, Inc. All rights reserved.

Don't forget to take our Congressional Survey!
As little as 10 minutes of your time can help us make a difference in your life!!
<div align="center"><a href="" title=""><img src="" alt="" style="border:none;" /></a></div>
Copy the codes below to
place one of our buttons
on your site or blog and
help spread the word
about FOV.  Thanks!
<div align="center"><a href="" title=""><img src="" alt="" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

About This Site  |  Media Room  |  Contact Us  |  Site Map  |  Link Share  |  Spread the Word  |  Volunteer
our mission: to provide real world resources that help heroes and their loved ones survive & thrive in life after combat