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Married to PTSD: What is Secondary PTSD

Married to PTSD

A soldier coming home is a happy time, a glorious reunion with loved ones. We’ve all seen the online videos romanticizing a soldier surprising their  family with the homecoming.

But any veteran’s spouse or family knows that when the cameras quit rolling and the soldier returns to the civilian world, they are often a  changed person, sometimes one living with undiagnosed or unrecognized PTSD? But it isn’t just the veteran who may be suffering from PTSD.

Spousal PTSD is becoming a recognized phenomenon in veteran families.

Understanding Veteran Specific PTSD 

A deployed soldier lives a life of intense emotions.

At every second, they are on high alert for enemy forces, staying alive, keeping their fellow soldiers alive, all while completing a mission. This becomes the soldier’s new way of living with their brain on high alert for danger. When the soldier returns home, however, it is hard to turn this mindset off.

Returning to family/civilian life is completely different from what they have lived for months and even in the best of circumstances, there will be a time of adjustment. Sometimes the soldier will try to act as if everything is fine, even with their closest loved ones. They have faced much scarier things than carpooling kids to school or taking out the trash, but everyday life after deployment may become overwhelming for a veteran secretly struggling with PTSD.

While the veteran has faced hostile forces, IEDs, and injured or killed comrades, their spouse has been at home dealing with stresses and trauma of their own. This can result in secondary PTSD or spousal PTSD.

What is Secondary PTSD?

During deployment, a soldier’s spouse becomes, for all intents and purposes, a single parent, managing a household by themselves, being the sole caregiver for children, handling the finances, all while worrying 24/7 that their spouse may be injured or killed while deployed.

 The challenges of these homefront warriors do not go away once their soldier spouse returns home from duty.  Although the veteran is home with the family, they may still be detached, leaving all the family decisions to the spouse.

The spouse not only takes care of the “normal” household burdens but now have to learn how to adapt to the veteran being a part of the family. Veteran spouses have been taught to watch for PTSD triggers in an attempt to prevent the veteran from disrupting the flow of family living. Sooner or later, the spouse loses a sense of self and becomes like the person they are trying so hard to protect, with spousal PTSD.

How does PTSD affect children and families?

The impact of battlefield traumas have a trickle down effect, on veterans, their spouses, their children, even at times their extended family, friends, and co-workers. 

According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, children growing up in homes without consistent safety, comfort, and protection may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms.

For example, children may develop hypersensitivity to moods of others, constantly walking on egg shells to adapt to the unpredictable moods of adults, or shutting down emotionally.

Indeed, children often take on the traumatic stress of their parents by osmosis, developing unhealthy coping mechanisms that interfere with future relationships without even being aware of it.

The risk to children is amplified if both of their parents are suffering from PTSD, particularly if undiagnosed, unacknowledged, and untreated

What Do I Do If my Spouse Has PTSD?

It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of PTSD, in a veteran or in their spouse, before things get out of control. While PTSD is not curable, it is treatable. Life, as it was once known, may only be a distant memory, but a bright future is still possible.

The first step, however, is recognition of a problem and seeking assistance.

As a military spouse, you may be the first person to notice the symptoms of PTSD in your loved one. Don’t ignore them and don’t delay helping them get evaluation and treatment. Disruptions in family relationships caused by PTSD, if not addressed, can destroy marriages and families. Understand that you may need to be the first person to reach out for help, not just for your spouse, but for you.

The VA can provide diagnosis and treatment both to veterans and their family members suffering from PTSD. Additionally, the veteran can apply for VA disability benefits to mitigate the financial impact of PTSD which can be a helpful additional step in the treatment and recovery process

Seek Professional Help

If you or a loved one are a veteran needing assistance with their VA disability claims, whether PTSD-related or for some other physical or mental condition, VLG can help.

Contact us today for a free evaluation of your claim decision.



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If you are a veteran, or a family member of a veteran, whose work has been affected by their disability and who would like to appeal a VA benefits decision, we would like to speak with you.

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"Although it took a while for the result to come out, VLG was able to accomplish my expectations for a 100% rating. Due to complex medical issues, I appreciate the care you took so I did not have to appear personally in the VA local office or VA court. I am quite satisfied. I feel I am not shortchanged anymore."

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