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Veteran Services

PTSD and Serving Veterans at End of Life

As shared by members of a VA Support Group for Spouses of Vietnam Veterans with PTSD (With our appreciation for their insight and wisdom!)

What are the issues that may come up with Veteran loved ones?

PTSD is very common and significantly impacts daily lives.

PTSD symptoms include:

  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Nightmares & night-sweats
  • Emotional detachment
  • Isolation
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Poor memory
  • Insomnia
  • Hyper-vigilance (security systems, perimeter checks, weapons)
  • Secondary PTSD (spouses)


What is helpful?

  • Being educated about PTSD
  • Bear witness – don’t hide your feelings.
  • Allow the Vet to have as much control as possible.
  • Be a listener.
  • Don’t take things personally – lack of trust is not personal.
  • Ask “where would you like me to sit?” Furniture placement can be important.
  • Make sure pathways to exits are clear as well as views of windows.
  • Be aware of nationality triggers; for example, Asian individuals for veterans who have served in Asian conflicts.
  • No surprises – try to keep plans clear.
  • Vets with PTSD often relate better to their animals than people, so “pet therapy” might be helpful.

What is not helpful?

  • Not listening
  • Don’t B.S. (for lack of a proper term!!!) or “Drop the ball.” Please follow through.
  • Don’t say “I know how you feel.”
  • Don’t “give orders” or directions.
  • No blocked exits!!

What can be done to make it better?

  • For the caregiver: Respite time!!! Be informed. Seek help learning how to do specific tasks like moving the Vet, transferring from bed, feeding, etc. HUGS!!!!
  • Check out the Caregiver Self Care information at www.caregiver.va.gov.
  • Be culturally aware. Solutions and suggestions may be great in one cultural situation and not in others. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t do it.
  • Be aware that communication is not easy for a lot of Vets and they may not share their stories with their families, but they may appreciate an opportunity to tell their story to someone else – another veteran perhaps.
  • Continue to increase your understanding and awareness of PTSD; how it affects the Vet and how it affects the family/caregivers.

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