Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a recognized mental health condition that often occurs after a person experiences a life-altering or life-threatening incident. For veterans, PTSD is quite common after being involved in high-stress situations, witnessing many serious injuries, and participating in the hardships of combat.

Most people experience some type of traumatic event in their lives. After a temporary period of adjustment, most get better. However, for some—and especially for veterans—recovery isn’t easy. Each person endures PTSD differently, with unique issues specific to that person’s individual situation. However, a common trigger for veterans suffering from PTSD is the “trauma anniversary” or the date the incident occurred.

What Is a Trauma Anniversary?

A trauma anniversary is the actual date when a person witnessed a terrible event that was a cause of PTSD. An anniversary might also include the days and weeks leading up to that specific date. It may be a day that has great significance to you, or it may be a date that receives public attention, such as 9/11 or Columbine. This date and the days just prior to it are often the most challenging for people suffering from PTSD.

Trauma anniversaries and PTSDThe emotions you experience during this time are called an “anniversary reaction.” You may feel depressed, unhappy, edgy, or a variety of other emotions and behaviors that can be difficult to deal with and keep you from enjoying daily life. You may experience flashbacks or serious anxiety about what happened to you on that date.

Many researchers believe the anniversary reaction should be considered an actual symptom of PTSD.

Symptoms of an Anniversary Reaction

Many veterans who develop PTSD and experience an anniversary reaction may have numerous symptoms, including: 

  • Feelings of grief and sadness
  • Problems concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
  • Irritability or sudden angry outbursts
  • Nightmares or flashbacks of the event
  • Reduced appetite
  • Being nervous and edgy
  • Feeling detached from friends and loved ones

Coping With a Trauma Anniversary

When a trauma anniversary approaches, you may begin to feel that you’re back in the past experiencing or re-living the event. You may want to avoid places, people, or things related to the trauma; or you may feel as if you’re “on guard” or hypervigilant. This is because trauma causes the hypothalamus—a small portion of the brain that regulates emotional responses—to go on “high alert.” Your body’s stress responses are activated, including what’s called the “fight-or-flight” reaction that increases your blood pressure and heart rate.

When you’re faced with a trauma anniversary, there are various strategies you can use to help cope with it, including:

  • Participate in an activity that honors the person you’ve lost. You could visit the grave of your loved one or gather with friends to remember that person. Mark the occasion by doing something special to honor the loss.
  • Acknowledge your feelings. Recognizing that your feelings are part of the healing process and not a setback can help with your recovery.
  • Volunteer. Consider engaging in any activity that helps you feel you’re contributing to your community instead of focusing on your loss.
  • Reach out to friends. Contact people you love and trust, and don’t isolate yourself. Plan an activity with them or share a special project together, so you're involved with something positive instead of the traumatic event.

Cuddigan Law Can Help

If you’re a veteran who suffers from PTSD, it’s possible to qualify for financial assistance from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

If you need help service-connecting your mental health condition and want to file 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 (402) 933-5405, and you’ll speak to an intake specialist for free.


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