Guarding the Hidden Wounds of War: The Lived Experience of Chronic Combat-Related PTSD in Vietnam and Korean War Veterans
Combat-related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that affects between 18.7% and 30.9% of Vietnam veterans at some point in their lives (Dohrenwend et al., 2006). Current literature highlights the clinical relevance of PTSD, supporting the fact that it is a chronic, fluctuating condition (Chopra et al., 2014, p. 95) with detrimental effects on not only mental but also physical health (Goldberg et al., 2014, p.1589). PTSD correlates with impaired cognition, concentration, problem solving, and reasoning (Mota et al., 2016, p. 351) along with increased likelihood of chronic illness, disability, unhealthy weight (Goldberg et al., 2014, p. 1585) and pain (Pagotto et al., 2015). Clinical recognition of these types of symptoms in veterans over the age of 65 is imperative as they make up approximately 40.5% of the military demographic (Pless Kaiser et al., 2016, p. 391). Unfortunately, factors like stigma and skepticism about evidence-based treatments for PTSD deter many patients from talking about their symptoms; this complicates the process of diagnosing and treating the disorder (Hundt et al., 2015, p. 542). Considering the prevalence of PTSD in Vietnam and Korean War veterans and the difficult nature of its diagnosis, improved methods of assessment and identification need to be adopted in the healthcare setting. Recurrent PTSD in aging veterans is a problem that needs to be addressed, not just by healthcare professionals in general, but by nurses in particular. Nurses spend extensive time at the point of care building rapport and trust with patients; thus, nurses are often the best-suited caregivers to catch symptoms of PTSD and should be equipped with the knowledge and training to do so. This study is designed to support this end and to add to the limited body of research addressing the nursing care of patients with PTSD. The aim of this study is to explore the lived experience of chronic PTSD in aging veterans for the purpose of providing nursing-focused recommendations for establishing rapport, assessing symptoms and coping skills, and providing trauma-aware care for aging Vietnam and Korean War veterans struggling with combat-related PTSD.