Medically reviewed by: Dr. Karmen Smith, LCSW, DD

Reviewed On: January 30, 2023

It’s no secret that the military can expose service members to traumatic and stressful events. As a result, combat veterans are at increased risk for mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

PTSD is a complex condition that someone might develop after being exposed to severe or prolonged trauma. It can happen to anyone who’s either experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, and it doesn’t have to (and typically won’t) occur directly after the experience. 

If you have a loved one trying to deal with PTSD, there are many ways you can help them face their challenges. Your support will mean the world, and it might be the defining factor that helps them heal and recover some of the life they once knew. Read on to learn 9 tips for how to help veterans with PTSD.

1. Help Them Find Treatment

Many veterans don’t seek military mental health care after returning from active duty, even if they struggle with symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Unfortunately, there’s a stigma surrounding mental health, especially for those in the armed forces. Rest assured, though, you can help your loved one by supporting them as they seek help. Studies show that veterans are more likely to start mental health treatment such as veterans therapy if they’re encouraged by others. 

In addition to being there for them on their mental health journey, you can help them find treatment options that meet their needs. It can be difficult for some people to make time for their own care, but Talkspace offers online therapy that’s available from the comfort of their own homes.

2. Learn More About PTSD and Potential Triggers

If you want to learn more about how to help returning veterans with PTSD from war, one of the best things you can do is educate yourself on the condition and its common triggers. PTSD triggers are experiences that can bring on symptoms. When you’re aware of them, you can take steps to avoid triggers, protecting your loved one from potential distress. 

Loud noises, sudden touch, and crowds are all common PTSD triggers for veterans. In addition, many are triggered by media that depicts war, including movies, TV shows, and news programs. 

Research also shows that veterans can experience stress when exposed to certain scents, too, such as burning odors. 

3. Connect Them with Helpful Resources for Veterans

Veteran Affairs and other organizations like Warrior Care Network or Military OneSource provide many resources, including counseling services and programs that offer social support. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for a veteran to be unaware of the available resources, which is why it’s so important to help. 

  • The Mission Continues works to empower veterans who are struggling to adjust to civilian life. 
  • AboutFace shares stories from veterans who have experienced PTSD. 
  • If your loved one doesn’t have a PTSD diagnosis yet, VA Medical Centers can provide screenings and referrals to mental health professionals. 

4. Find Ways to Help Them Feel Safe

If you’re learning how to help war veterans with PTSD, one of the most important things you can do is make them feel safe. People with PTSD often struggle with fear and anxiety. You can counteract these symptoms by providing your loved one with emotional safety. 

Look for ways to reassure and give them feelings of comfort. Offer verbal affirmations and find relaxing activities that you can both enjoy. Make sure they know that you’re here to support them with the challenges that they’re facing. 

Be flexible and willing to change plans or make adjustments, sometimes even on the fly. For example, if you’re at a loud social event and the noise is triggering your loved one, be prepared to leave. Over time, they‘ll begin to take comfort in trusting that you’re willing to protect them. 

5. Suggest a Service Dog for PTSD

Psychiatric service dogs can be an effective intervention if you want to know how to help veterans with PTSD. Dogs can be trained to recognize signs of anxiety and distress, allowing them to interrupt panic attacks and nightmares. PTSD service dogs can also give veterans a sense of safety in public. 

Next Step Service Dogs is an organization that provides service dogs for veterans with invisible conditions like PTSD. Let your loved one know about this organization and tell them more about the many ways a service dog could help them in their day-to-day life. 

6. Try Grounding Exercises

It’s common for PTSD to cause extreme stress or fear. Grounding exercises for PTSD can help redirect thoughts and bring someone back to the present moment. While grounding exercises are something your loved one can practice on your own, they’re also an activity you can do together. 

Meditation, deep breathing, and memory games are all effective grounding techniques. If you notice your loved one is feeling stressed, try asking them to list their favorite things, or have them focus on a nearby object. Research suggests that these techniques can help manage symptoms of PTSD

7. Check in Throughout the Day

People aren’t always willing to ask for help. Sometimes, they may not even recognize that they need it. This can be especially true when dealing with PTSD and a comorbid condition like depression. So in addition to learning more about how to help veterans with PTSD, make a point to check in with your loved one often to see how they’re feeling. 

Instead of asking questions like “Are you okay?” try to ask open-ended questions that will give them a chance to speak up if they need to talk. For example, you could ask, “What’s on your mind?” or have them tell you more about what they did that week. When it comes to how to treat PTSD, social support plays a significant role, and regular check-ins can help. 

8. Encourage Them to Reach Out to Other Veterans

Even if you don’t know much about how to help someone with PTSD from war, you can encourage your loved one to connect with other veterans who understand what they’re going through. Check Veteran Affairs to see if support groups are nearby. Online support groups like PTSD Survivors of America can also help veterans make valuable connections. 

In addition to support groups, you might suggest that your loved one reach out to old friends from the military. Vet Friends is an online site that helps veterans reunite with service members they’ve lost touch with. The more support your loved one has, the better.

“Helping a family member or friend who’s dealing with PTSD can be challenging. This challenge can be made even more difficult if the person in need is in need of working with a therapist who has cultural competence in the military and veteran population. Some things you can do, regardless of your immediate resources, include: listen to their stories, encourage them to not self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, and arm them with information about organizations who stand ready to help (i.e. the VetCenter, Military Crisis Line, Brave Badge Initiative, Mission22, etc.).”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD

9. Connect Loved Ones with Online Therapy for Veterans

If you’re unsure of how to help relieve PTSD in veterans, refer them to mental health professionals who can give them the tools they need. Therapy for PTSD can help people learn to process trauma. It can guide them as they develop coping tools that will help them manage post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms more effectively. 

You might think that finding a therapist isn’t easy, but Talkspace simplifies the process. We can match military veterans with an experienced online therapist qualified to offer guidance and support when dealing with military PTSD.