PTSD Spirituality: Big Lie #2 is Only Combat Veterans Get PTSD

Today we take a look at the second of three big lies about PTSD.

The second big lie about PTSD is that only combat vets get PTSD.

As a means to deny people the legitimacy of their PTSD suffering, some folks will endeavor to say that your particular trauma does not measure up.  They will say you did not suffer enough, or you did not suffer from the right traumatic source to qualify for PTSD.  They claim that unless you were in heavy combat like Okinawa or Iwo Jima, that you cannot possibly have contracted PTSD.  These folks will assert that being raped by a priest, or assaulted in an alley, or surviving a natural disaster does not qualify the victim for PTSD eligibility. 

PTSD Does Not Care How You Got Traumatized

Combat experience can certainly cause PTSD.  But non-combat duty can inflict the PTSD soul wound.  In fact, civilian trauma can cause PTSD.  As I have mentioned elsewhere, in certain circumstances you can even get PTSD from your civilian job.  Besides speaking with veterans, I have also met with clergy abuse survivors, rape survivors, and domestic violence survivors.  None of those individuals were in the military, let alone in combat, but they all exhibited similar PTSD symptoms.  In my experience, PTSD does not care how you got traumatized.

We are called to help heal others and be compassionate.  We are not called to judge if other people’s sufferings are worthy of our attention.  That attitude is such a case of hubris and egotism that it borders on blasphemy.

The common denominator for PTSD is surviving trauma that has damaged our soul, not surviving  a specific type of trauma. 

From my observations, a child who is raped, or a wife who is beaten, are just as likely to develop PTSD as a combat soldier.

Recently (19 Jan 2011), Pauline Jelinek, writing in the Washington Post, pointed out that soldiers serving in the National Guard and the Reserves, even when they had no combat assignments, incurred PTSD.  Many of them have committed suicide.  See, “Spike in Suicides for Army Guard and Reserve,” by Pauline Jelinek, in the Washington Post.

[Interestingly, when I went back to get a link for this story, it had vanished.  Why it was deleted, I don’t know.  After all, it’s no secret the military is failing to convince soldiers that suicide is not a viable career move.]

In spite of the vanishing article, Jelinek reported:

“Maj. Gen. Raymond Carpenter, acting director of the Army National Guard, said the risk of suicide among his soldiers does not appear to be substantially linked to war deployments or lack of jobs. Instead, he said, about half the cases of Guard soldiers’ suicides involved people in troubled relationships.”

Troubled relationships are often a symptom of PTSD, not necessarily the cause of a PTSD suicide.  Symptoms can become causes for other symptoms, which then can cause suicide.  If the general’s troops have troubled domestic relationships, they may have PTSD and be at a higher suicide risk.  Even if a soldier’s troubled relationships are not the direct result of combat, deployments, or job loss, they still will contribute to lower unit cohesion and effectiveness.  If commanders want to reduce suicides, they will need to take troubled personal relationships more seriously.  They must do this regardless if the trouble is due to a direct military cause or not.

From what various officers and troops have told me, the disregard of personal stress, PTSD, and suicides is frequently dismissed by general officers.  While my evidence is anecdotal, I still have never had an American officer or enlisted person emphasize how much their general did to prevent PTSD and suicides.

While combat can certainly cause PTSD, combat is not the sole cause of PTSD.  We need to be creative and think outside the box.  Trauma is the cause of PTSD.  Combat is one of many forms of trauma that can cause PTSD.  Yet, the soaring rate of non-combat military suicides helps demonstrate that PTSD need not be limited to only combat veterans.

Why Try to Minimize PTSD to Only Combat?

Some people will assert that only combat veterans can have PTSD for the same reasons that other people deny the existence of PTSD altogether.  We laid some of this out in the previous essay on the First Big Lie About PTSD, but to summarize some of the points:

– By asserting only combat veterans can get PTSD, then we can deny the validity of non-combat PTSD sufferers

– By limiting the PTSD eligibility, we can fully engage our Compassion Deficit Disorder and neglect others who are suffering

– By denying the condition exists we don’t have to compensate it financially or treat it medically

– By denying the suffering of others I gain more free time to focus on video games, TV reality shows, and telling anyone who will listen that I am a good Christian

Dealing with PTSD’s Handmaidens

What If Someone Tries to Minimize Your PTSD?

So what do you when someone refuses to have dialogue, when they refuse to hear you?  Walk away and pray that God may make them open to the grace of compassion.  These people are toxic to genuine PTSD sufferers.  They want us to be quiet and stay isolated and do them the favor of committing suicide.

The PTSD Denier is a PTSD Handmaiden.  They help PTSD ravage you that much more.  Paradoxically, their denials can magnify your PTSD symptoms.

Unteachable and Unreachable, Yet Needing Compassion Themselves

In most cases, if someone is trying to tell you that you have not suffered enough, or you were not traumatized in the right way to earn a case of PTSD, then they cannot be shown otherwise.  They are usually unteachable, at least at that point in time.  They will not hear you, they have neither the skills or inclinations to listen to someone else.  Often, they have been damaged in some way and never helped or cared for.  Now, bitter, they want the rest of the world to suffer as well.  Thus, they deserve our compassion and pity.  They may have placed themselves beyond our reach, but they can still be prayed for.

The PTSD Handmaiden may deny the reality of your PTSD soul wound because they will claim you were not in combat.  Or, you were not in the right type of combat.  Or, you were not in combat long enough.  They seek ways to define your suffering right out of existence.  As they walk away all smug, you still suffer.

PTSD Deniers betray themselves by following a pattern that goes like this:

-They won’t let you finish describing your traumatic story or how it affected you.

-They keep trying to find ways to minimize or belittle your trauma.

-They reference someone else who had it worse and is just fine.

-They are obsessed with “people who get something for nothing.”

-They constantly interrupt but demand your rapt attention.

Don’t Cast Your Pearls Before Swine

Your story of trauma and living through the symptoms of PTSD’s soul wound is too sacred to be thrown at the feet of PTSD’s Handmaidens so they can trample it.  In other essays I have mentioned you need to be careful who you confide in, because toxic people will get their jollies by mocking your suffering and imply you are faking it or are just a weak loser.  Oddly enough, even if I am a weak loser, I know that Jesus came to save me.

Avoid the Dogfight

In the old days I might have had some choice words for the PTSD Handmaiden who mocked my suffering.  But there is no progress, no teaching, no grace, in hitting back with words or fists.  That person is sicker than I am, especially if they are the dreadful combination of a PTSD Handmaiden and a Plastic Christian.  These are the ones who emphasize money, denying care, letting someone else take risks while they talk big, and show no compassion to the physically or spiritually wounded.

When a PTSD Handmaiden and a Plastic Christian mate and have a unLove Child, then the best we can do is pray for them all.  When they are wounded, we must show them the compassion they deny others.

It’s a tricky balance because you must not let them trample your own sacred story.  We need to learn just who to share our wounds with, who can be trusted to listen and heal along with us.  If we are most fortunate then that person is our spouse or special friend.  With or without that trusted listener, we still share our story in prayer with God and in writing.  The page never tires of taking the words of my suffering.  God never tires of hearing how I and others suffer and how I plead for the grace to love them and have compassion on them – even when they are so darned toxic.

Can a Person with Zero Combat Experience Get PTSD?

Yes, absolutely.  One almost wishes the answer is no, but we are all susceptible to PTSD soul wounds.  Why?  Because we have souls.  Even an atheist has a soul.  Our souls, just like bones, can be broken.  Sometimes they need repair.

If your soul has been wounded, regardless of how you were traumatized, then it can also heal.

God created us with the capacity to love one another.  That same capacity means we can be soul wounded.  But, it also means our souls can heal.

Never give up hope.  Find someone reliable to talk with.  Talk to God.  Write it down.  Seek creative outlets (music, art, writing, prayer) and avoid the toxic unLove Children of PTSD Handmaidens and Plastic Christians.   Pray for them, but don’t dance with them.

I say it over and over because it is true: You Have Value!  You Can Heal!  God Loves You!

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. So the brother of American Sniper says his brother,s killer could not have PTSD because he never served in combat. Thats wrong & I believe the guy did have mental issues I feel he got a bum rap & now will suffer in prison for rest of his life without treatment. I think he might just take his life. Is sad.

    • Yes, it is a sad case. Seems like too many people are looking for vengeance – a vengeance that won’t solve anything.
      You are right that PTSD does not only come to those who have been in combat. Combat based trauma is only one of the ways to get PTSD. It is a very sad case.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  2. Thank you.

  3. miguelrosado says:

    I need to know if a person took an herpes at the military forces active duties could have the opportunity to apply for PTSD.

    • Hello, I don’t know the answer to your question. I would, however, check-in with the VA and/or the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). The DAV have service officers to help with PTSD and other medical claims. If I were you I would make an appointment speak with a DAV service officer (sometimes you can just “walk-in” and they will have someone who can answer your specific questions. Semper Pax, Dr. Z.

  4. Jeffrey Steiner says:
  5. Wow that describes what I lived. Cross section robotic Christianity meets bi-polar, immoral, violantly abusive father, who manipulated his 8 children with all these devises. I was a beaten child. So yes in every way you are correct. Trust in others comes off as paranoia, but it’s not. I prayed & found ( believe it or not) a physician MD. Whom got it. He said, ” ” You’re Soul is hurting.” Imagine that!? He bought me time and kindness enough to relax & reckon with my own soul through Gods eyes. You said even Athiest’s have a soul. I believe that 100%. Keep up the good work. Please.

    • Hi Robin, I am glad you found a medical doctor who recognizes the fuller implications of your struggle. Thank you also for the encouragement to continue with this website and my other activities. Things get harder on all fronts as time goes by and I benefit from your encouragement. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  6. secretly tourmented says:

    Hi. Thank you for this. It actually made me tear up.. ill start by today. I was watching t.v. after work and they said something about ptsd. It wasn’t a commercial about it. It was one of those like intervention things. They mentioned things about it that made me feel like maybe I could have that, but as you know they say people only have ptsd if they have been in combat.. if I was to tell somebody that’s what I think I have they would laugh in my face at me. The things that happened to me as a child and teen I pushed away for awhile. First by doing drugs, don’t worry been clean for 7 years, than just by shoving it down. As a teen they medicated me saying I was psychotic that I was bipolar, this I found out on a 72 hour hold after trying to kill myself. Now back to today, yes I know I am all over the place I am sorry. So it started comming back. Before I did so well pushing it down and would only get memories once and a while. Now it is every day driving watching t.v. working. When I remember what happened to me I can feel it. It is such a vivid memory. It makes me sick to my stomach, and again I am at the point I was before when I first started using. I just want to make it go away. I can’t handle it.. I try not to do anything rash do to I have children of my own. I need to stay ok for them. I don’t know what to do anymore. If I go get help they put me on meds and when I stop taking the meds I go self medicate and it is a viciouse cycle I had to drag myself out of before. Now back to my childhood. I was young going to church praising god happy… I guess… until everything happened all thease bad things that screwed me up. I asked god why ? Why would you betray me when I was so faithfull? Yes I blamed god for what my father did to me, but in my head if god really loved me how could he be watching all this and not do something… mybe I’m just rambling and I am sorry. I am just at the point of I have no idea what to do I have no idea what I have wrong with me but I want it to go away…
    Thank you

    • Hello, I am glad that this essay is helpful for you. Know that God does love you, you have value. Sometimes, some of us share the agony and desolation of Jesus on the cross when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In an odd sense, perhaps, I find comfort in knowing that even the Son of God – and we are all Children of God – felt alone, frightened, isolated in his trauma…a trauma he did not deserve… just as no human being deserves the kind of trauma that would give them PTSD.
      You are right to choose to stay alive, for both your sake and that of your children. People like us end up being role models for others, sometimes when we don’t even know it. The role that we model is the courage and tenacity to stay alive in the face of adversity and a materialistic society that judges our worth only in terms of our financial wealth.
      Our bodies and our soul – not to mention our minds – have memory. Thus, in the case of PTSD, when we rehash or relive the traumatic memories, our body and soul responds as if it is fresh and real and happening right now. You are doing the right thing in looking for new ways to understand your situation.
      Some folks will laugh at non-military PTSD, but it can hurt just as much. We need to be careful who we share our wounds with; we don’t need people who want to tear off the bandages and pour in salt. You should start a journal, if you have not done so already. Start writing letters to God about what happened and how abandoned you felt. There is a lot of healing in writing. The first several times of writing can be painful, but the pain and anxiety will diminish if you stick with writing. This can be personal writing between you and God; it does not have to be shared with others. Sometimes we need to make sure we have a little recovery time set aside after a bout of honest writing as we may have become emotional. Nothing wrong with emotion and tears, but I should be sure I am not going to drive a car right away if I am crying. Sometimes I still get weepy when I write. It is normal. It is healing.
      We’ll keep you and your healing in prayer. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  7. At first nobody believed me when I confessed I’d survived a psa. Now, people I talk to act as if its not a big deal. I’m in the midst of the 8yr anniversary and barely clinging to my sanity. I’m afraid all the time and absolutely terrified of churches and p’s – though I still try to trust God and force myself to drop my daughter off at youth group where I some what feel and hope she’ll be safe. It’s really difficult. More so when there’s no one to talk to. It’s as if the “church people” would rather I not have fought so they could see more proof. Some wounds just aren’t visible. Thank you for this article. With all the Veterans Day and combat ptsd talk lately, I’ve been questioning my rights to feel traumatized.

    • First off, let me say that anyone who survived a PSA has the right to feel traumatized.
      Some people remain in denial that these sorts of traumas exist and they try to act as if it were no big deal. That is to say, there is a lot of denial out there because most folks can’t handle how nasty life can be to us.
      I admire your ability to stay alive and trying to trust God. We all know that the p-folks can be either good or bad, but when one of them abuses our trust, as well as our bodies, and souls, it is particularly painful. Of the trauma survivors I have met over the years I think the type you have suffered and those who were sexually assaulted as children are some of the toughest cases. There is very little support in our society for them and people would like to brush it under the rug. They usually don’t understand that in some cases we were not in a position to physically fight back.
      Yesterday I spoke about trauma in a Catholic church and was relieved to see prominent notices telling people how to report clergy abuse. No one is delighted that some priest were molesters and abusers of their power, but I am relieved to see that they are trying to deal with it, at least in that parish.
      The book, “Denial: A Memoir of Terror” by Jessica Stern may be useful for you. The trauma is not an exact match but it also deals with how our culture tries to deny these types of trauma are out there.
      One psa survivor I know says that every day she gets up and gets on with her day is a victory, even after decades, the trauma still damages her. But, she strives to maintain her life and integrity – the abusers cannot take that away from us..
      Combat is not the only source of PTSD. In some ways it is the most accepted form of PTSD in our society (although some still deny it it) and from it we can learn about how trauma attacks us and how we can best heal and recover from it. But it is not the only source of PTSD.
      You have every right to feel traumatized. You were traumatized. Now, you are a miracle in and of yourself because of your courage to stay alive and love and raise your daughter. God loves you – a lot!
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  8. Marian Jones says:

    I am a survior of Military Sexual Assault at Ft. Hood TX in 1981. I was an E4 and the Chaplain was a Captain. The unit I was assigned to was intolerable and I was on orders to report to OCS in the next 2 to 3 week. I went to the Chaplain for help and to make a long story short he attempted to rape me and I had to fight him to escape. I immediately reported it to my Chain of Command but was told by my Battery Commander that I had to learn officers stick together. If I reported the Chaplain, I could not go to OCS. I went on to OCS and did very well in the beginning. Later I perceived my COL/Commander at my unit at Ft. Polk was going to or did rape me. I have not memory of this. While I was enlisted I suffered from migraine headaches and IBS and continue to suffer until this day. I filed a VA claim for migraine headaches and IBS was denied and told I ate cheese and peanuts. I did not mentioned the sexual assault because I was ashamed. It was not until 2010 that I filed a claim for PTSD related to MST. Even though my psycologist acknowledges I have PTSD secondary to MST I am told by my attorney today that is not enough. I had to have demonstrated behaviour such as excessive drinking, drug abuse, or went AWOL. Why did my trauma have to result in bad behaviour? Why isn’t the severe headaches and Irritable Bowel Syndrome physical reactions to my trauma. I would think people react to trauma in different ways. During the time I thought my COL/Commander was going to rape me. I did demonstrate bad behavior. I started spending money I did not have on furniture, clothes, you name it. I often bought 2 or 3 of the same items without knowing it. I finally came out on the Bad Check List and was highly embarrassed. I resigned from the Army. Since that time I have not been able to keep a job more than 3 years. I had been out of work 10 years and suffered through hurricane Katrina. As I stated I do have an attorney but he does not think I have a good case for PTSD since I am not a alcoholic or drug addict and he is preparing me to understand I have no chance of being compensated. I am very frustrated and do not understand this reasoning. Can some one out there help me with this issue. I need support on filing this claim. I spent 10 years in the Army and would have liked to stayed for 30 but it was unfortunate for me several individuals interfered with that dream.

    • Getting the VA to pay for PTSD is extremely hit or miss, and it seems to be mostly miss. The sad fact is that the government and Americans in general do not desire to admit that we have walking wounded with PTSD and that some of their PTSD has been caused by our male troops raping or abusing female troops.

      Your attorney may be helping you to understand the odds against the government ever doing right by you. That said, you may wish to check in with the local chapter of Veterans for Peace (VFP) and/or Disabled American Veterans. Although I am not active with VFP, it is my understanding that they have been more proactive on the issue of abuse of female troops. There might be someone at or the National Organization for Women who could help you, as well.

      While I have had conversations with women who have been abused by their commanders and their soldier peers, I am not well versed in the legal side of this. On the spiritual level, I can say you will have people praying for your well-being.

      Perhaps some of our other readers have suggestions. If so, please don’t be shy to offer them.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

    • Marian j
      It is now 2013. If by some chance you get this message. I urge you to contact you may get them hard earned benefits after all. Bless you for your honesty. I understand…

      • Robin, Thank you for mentioning the link. I visited it just now and am inpressed with them (not that they need my support by any means!). They look like a good resource for anyone struggling with a disability, be it civilian or military. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  9. Michelle says:

    the info is helpful I wish I could find people who understand but mostly its the ones who say i’m being silly and they act like its all in my head. So i just keep it to myself. I’m getting good at acting around people but I know it will never fix the problem.

    • I am grateful the information is of use. In many ways having PTSD in a world and among associates who deny its existence, or who do not want to admit it because then they would be compelled to care, is like being undercover. One desires to be truthful in stating how they are, but often our society only makes the PTSD worse by denial or mockery. Even though I (sort of) run this website, I am still very careful about going in to detail on the exact details of my trauma because most people immediately start to judge if I am worthy of PTSD. The non-combat PTSD afflicted individual has to be careful who they share with. This is why it is so important to engage in writing a journal, poetry, and engaging in crafts like artwork, music, and writing. Most important is to talk to God about it, God will lsiten when no one else will, God will love us when others try to measure our worth before they will choose to care. You don’t have to act in front of God and telling God about the trauma and the PTSD will help you better deal with PTSD and its symptoms. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  10. Warrior Woman says:

    I am a veteran with PTSD, but it was not caused by combat. I experienced domestic violence and assault from a supervisor while on active duty. That was the worse time in my life, and being on active duty did not help.
    After about 15 years, I decided to fight the VA for compensation. It has been 2 1/2 years since I began. I could have 3 or 4 more years of denials and delays.
    I never thought that I had a “spiritual wound” until I found this Web site and a couple more. Never heard about it. I had been going to church off and on for many years. About 8 years ago, I quit going because I felt very depressed when I left a service. The good news is a year ago, a good friend took the first step in bringing me back to church. I have discussed the concept of a spiritual wound and other issues with the pastor, who has helped me greatly.
    Thank you for this Web site.

    • You certainly have been walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Your PTSD wound is of the type which is especially painful. That is because the trauma was inflicted by people you were supposed to be able to trust and respect. I am glad that you have been able to make it back to church. Going to church and struggling through the life of faith will not magically make PTSD go away, but it will make PTSD easier to bear and easier to heal from. I wish you continued success on your PTSD journey and success in the struggles with the VA. You will be in our prayers. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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