Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Psychological effects of warfare on veterans and their families

Brittany Lewis
Jacksonville, North Carolina, United States



We hear the terms PTSD and TBI often. When civilians think of these diagnoses they all too often picture a man home broken from combat, possibly wearing a long trench coat and carrying a gun in his hand, who may just fly off at any given moment and kill you. People are afraid and unwilling to help our veterans because they do not understand. Let me try to help you understand.

Trained well, the soldier enters into the battlefield and performs his duty diligently. He comes home to find his wife has left him and his bank account is drained.  Regardless of how highly esteemed he was in the military, no civilian company will hire him because his “military skills just do not seem to transfer over well into the civilian world.” He had received much training to enter into combat, but what about training to adjust when coming home? What about training to deal with the nightmares, the anxiety, the depression, the survivor’s guilt?

PTSD stands for “post-traumatic stress disorder.” It is a psychological disorder that affects people after going through some trauma, whether it be combat, rape, or kidnapping. Anyone can get this disorder but it is most often found among our military members because of what they were made to experience.

TBI stands for “traumatic brain injury”. It is a physical injury caused by trauma to the brain. It usually goes hand in hand with PTSD, meaning that some veterans have both, affecting their ability to manage emotions and make decisions. The life of someone with such mental issues is extremely challenging.  Combine all of this with the social and family issues that usually arise and you have a full-on “perfect storm.”

Many veterans cannot handle life with their new medical and psychological issues after returning home. Fear of rejection combined with a deep sense of pride often keeps them from seeking help. They think they can adjust, get over it, and “eventually this will pass.” This is not true. In most cases, the longer someone goes without seeking help the worse they will become. They will eventually become unable to deal with the normal stresses of daily living and think constructively because their brain is no longer functioning as it once did. Feeling out of control, many begin to self-medicate. Some use alcohol, drugs, pornography, even prostitutes. For many it is a mixture. Sometimes the affected person does not believe he has a problem, but many times he feels that now with the substance abuse problem or sexual addiction, combined with the medical issues, he is too far gone. There is no returning and no one can help him; it is impossible.

All this affects not only the veteran but takes a toll on the family, corrupting the family unit from the inside. When this happens, many spouses leave. But some stay. It takes much strength for a spouse to continue to stay in such a situation, although unfortunately the world usually views this as weakness. And so we come to yet another issue that is so tightly woven into the web of darkness that can so easily engulf the life of a military family, support for the spouse or caregiver. We simply do not support one another as we should. We understand the struggles and hardships, and difficult, confusing emotions better than most and yet we so often refuse to even help one another as we complain there is not enough help.

Yet let me offer you a bit of hope. For there is healing for both the veterans and their family. You can fix what has been broken, even if it seems beyond repair. Change only begins with the person who is willing to change. Most often, he who needs the most help, the veteran, is unwilling. This condition is either because he does not feel he has a problem, or because he feels he will be judged or has gone too far for anyone to help. So, what should a family do if the veteran cannot or will not change? Children cannot do much; they are innocent bystanders caught up in the mess that is their family. That leaves the spouse, the one who has not left yet and does not ever plan to leave. The one who has fought and cried to try to save the family and help their loved one. It starts with the one determined to do everything possible to pull the family out of this hole of darkness and bright it back into the light.

So the spouses get angry. They cry. They pray. They try to reach out. They go to counseling. They research TBI and PTSD until their brains are about to explode. They go through anger management, stress management, counseling for depression and anxiety, and dealing with difficult people. They take classes and read books on communication skills. They encourage their spouse daily and try to become strong so that they can take their spouses by the hand and slowly, oh so very slowly, heave them out of the biggest, darkest, scariest hole imaginable and show them what it is like to once again live in a world that has been kissed by the sun.



BRITTANY NICOLE LEWIS lives in North Carolina with her husband and two children. Her husband has been in the Marine Corps for ten years. She wrote this article to encourage others and spread awareness. She has an Associate’s degree in Elementary Education and currently works as a private tutor with mentally challenged adults with a focus on reading comprehension.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Summer 2016 – Volume 8, Issue 3
Summer 2016  |  Sections  |  War & Veterans

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.