Veterans who return from military service are at a greater risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than individuals who don’t serve. After being deployed to combat zones, facing the mental and emotional challenges of war, and often experiencing life-changing and traumatic events, veterans can suffer from PTSD—a recognized medical condition with symptoms that interfere with their ability to live a normal, productive, and rewarding life.

There are three primary treatment methods for veterans who experience symptoms of PTSD:

  • Prolonged exposure therapy. This therapy forces the veteran to remember every moment and detail of a life-altering or traumatic incident and talk about the memories out loud.
  • Cognitive processing therapy. Veterans who experience repeated trauma often feel they constantly live in a dangerous world. This therapy starts with an individual writing an “impact statement” and sharing it with other veterans to discuss what it’s like to live as if they’re still a prisoner of combat. The discussion helps build a bond between veterans and create a sense of community where they feel safe.
  • Pharmacological therapy. This type of therapy uses medication to help veterans with PTSD.

However, doctors and researchers acknowledge that these “first-line” treatments may not be enough to help all veterans who witnessed or were involved in a traumatic event. And even if they're successful for some, there are other non-traditional therapies that also prove to be helpful and increase a veteran’s overall mental and physical health.

Non-Traditional Therapies for PTSD

Alternative treatments for vets with PTSD

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) recognize that no one type of therapy works for everyone, so they're starting to accept and welcome a broad range of “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) techniques for helping veterans deals with their PTSD.

These techniques include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Biofeedback
  • Guided imagery
  • Hypnosis
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Tai chi
  • Relaxation therapy
  • Yoga

Many researchers believe that while CAM strategies can’t replace traditional therapies, there is evidence that shows they may help with a wide variety of PTSD symptoms, including social isolation, depression, insomnia, anxiety, and stress. These alternative methods might also decrease a veteran’s dependency on medication. Additionally, they may guide those veterans who have already sought treatment to continue and stay engaged.

Doctors and researchers haven’t made CAM techniques a first-line treatment for PTSD, but many believe they can work if used in tandem with primary treatments.

Acceptance of Yoga, Meditation, and Acupuncture

The military accepts and acknowledges yoga and meditation as ways to relieve a variety of physical and mental challenges. For example, yoga can help decrease pain and improve sleep quality. Many veterans suffering from PTSD have trouble sleeping because their nervous systems continue to be watchful or “on guard”—even though their service ended years before. Yoga teaches veterans how to relax and improve sleep for those who feel constantly keyed up.

Studies within the VA show that after only three months of regular meditation practice, many people can more effectively manage PTSD symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, and insomnia. Meditation might also have a greater acceptance by veterans who might have reservations about mental health treatment.

Acupuncture is another CAM technique gaining recognition for treating PTSD. The Military Stress Recovery Project is a program that provides free acupuncture to veterans in over 25 U.S. clinics. Acupuncture is a common pain management alternative, but using it for trauma and PTSD symptoms is somewhat new. The U.S. active military recognizes acupuncture as an option to expensive medications that can alter a veteran’s perception and ability to function properly. A VA 2011 survey reports that “acupuncture is provided at 58 of 125 VA health care systems that offer CAM.”

To be most effective as a preventative measure, acupuncture should be used immediately following a traumatic event because it “changes blood flow to the brain.” It's generally one part of an overall treatment plan for veterans who show signs of long-term trauma.

Cuddigan Law Can Help With Your PTSD Claim

If you’re a veteran who suffers from PTSD, it’s possible to qualify for financial assistance from the VA. For assistance service-connecting your mental health condition and filing for disability benefits, contact Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys have supported veterans for years, and we’ll carefully examine your case and advise you on the best approach for receiving the maximum in disability benefits. Call us today, and you’ll speak with an intake specialist for free.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska