Common Diagnosis, Medications & Side Effects for Combat & War Trauma

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One of the most challenging aspects of war related “invisible wounds” is the identification of the illness. There are no specific blood tests or specific medical tests that identify psychological illness. The diagnosis of a mental illness is based on a checklist of criteria or an evaluation that is done through a series of pen/paper/computer and interview assessments often known as “neuro-psychological evaluations”. Many of the illnesses can have aspects of the other. For example, hypersensitivity (overly sensitive to light, sound, etc.) can be a symptom of several things.

MANY symptoms can indicate either readjustment, medical AND/OR psychological illnesses. Many MEDICAL illnesses DO have tests that can “rule out” problems. It is suggested that you work closely with healing care team (physicians, counselors, etc.) to make sure they are communicating with each other. If a veteran is NOT showing signs of improvement, then do not hesitate to request further tests or seek a healing practitioner that will LISTEN TO YOU, work with you, and help the veteran to find relief.

The MOST important thing is that YOU and the veteran become educated about the diagnosis AND any medications used to treat the diagnosis. ALWAYS ASK ABOUT THE DIAGNOSIS AND MEDIATIONS and for a TREATMENT PLAN.

Everything that affects the veteran, affects you and your family. If the veteran has been diagnosed with a psychological illness, you will need to work as a team to communicate and support one another.

Following is a list of common psychological diagnoses for many Veterans and some helpful hints to be aware of when working with your healing team and family.  Scroll down to read more information about each one:


Medication Alert!

Drug Watch  –  A website dedicated to identifying drugs that may have side effects that are troublesome or are under FDA investigation.

Drug Dangers – is also an excellent source for obtaining information about possible side effects of medications.   

NEW! Recall Guide – an ongoing list of medications that the FDA is recalling.  The site may ask you for a login, but that is not necessary to review the “recalls”, just click on the link at the top of the site.

Alert! Remember that prolonged and extensive use of medications can be damaging to the liver.  Additionally, taking many medications over a long period of time can damage the teeth by producing DRY MOUTH.  Be very cautious of prolonged and extensive use of all medications.

Disclaimer: Veterans’ Families United Foundation does not guarantee results or outcome of the information provided in any of its materials.

Common Psychological Diagnoses for Many Veterans

  1. Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)
    (see for a more specific definition – National Alliance for the Mentally Ill).This diagnosis may be given when the veterans’s primary complaint is memory and focus and concentration problems.Common medications for this disorder are amphetamines (Adderall, Concerta, Retalin, etc). These are highly addictive. MUCH CARE SHOULD BE TAKEN if any of these are prescribed. Most any person, sick or not, that takes amphetamines will feel better initially. Amphetamines are considered “controlled dangerous substances” and should be considered very, very carefully before taking them.It is possible that veterans who have experienced extreme sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm disruption (irregular and brief periods of sleep over long periods of time, as experienced during wartime) can also suffer from memory and concentration problems.In addition, there are a few studies that indicate that OIF and OEF soldiers that took anthrax and malarial inoculations may be experiencing problems that mimic ADHD. Advise your medical/counseling team especially if your veteran took the anthrax inoculation.If the veteran in your life is not sleeping and/or is sleeping erratically, this should be discussed thoroughly with the medical practitioner. Also, if the veteran DID NOT have ADHD BEFORE GOING TO WAR, be very cautious about accepting this diagnosis and seek several opinions. 
  2. Bi-Polar Disorder (Manic/Depressive)
    (see for a more specific definition).This diagnosis may be given if your veteran complains of period(s) of depression and periods of elation. There are several sub-types of bi-polar also.Be very cautious with this diagnosis. Many of the symptoms (behaviors) of veterans can APPEAR like bi-polar, but may be otherwise. The greatest challenge of a misdiagnosis is that medications used to treat bi-polar may have a negative impact on the veteran.If a veteran is drinking alcohol excessively and or using any stimulant excessively (caffeine, nicotine, energy drinks, amphetamines-prescribed or not) it is very, very important that you or the veteran discuss use of any drug that with your healing practitioners. The excessive use of these substances can mimic symptoms that may be consider “manic” or “depressive” by the health care professional.
  3. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
    (see for a more specific definition).Significant sleeping, eating, sexual and relationship changes are symptoms of major depression. Changes in hygiene indicate reasons for immediate concern and intervention.Common medications for this disorder include several categories. One category must be used with extreme caution and that is SNRI’s (selective serotonin and norephinephrine reuptake inhibitors) or any norephinephrine based medication.Often, major depression can be associated with other mental or physical illnesses. Many PTSD suffers, for instance, have an imbalance of norephinephrine. Adding more to a veterans’s already dysregulated system can cause even more challenges.MEDICATION ONLY REMEDIES ARE NOT ADVISED! Effective treatment includes many areas of help including medical, pharmacological, counseling, nutritional, herbal, energy healing, etc. Only doing part of these or doing them randomly will not address the problem as effectively. 
  4. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    (see for a more specific definition and for information specifically related to war trauma and families. NEW! of this include sleep disrupted by nightmares, startle responses, anxiety in going and doing certain activities that may trigger an unwanted memory, panic attacks, and other anxiety related symptoms.
  5. PTSD is an extremely complex illness that requires a comprehensive approach to healing. Treatments effective in relieving symptoms can include; medications, talk therapy, rest, stress reduction, adequate nutrition and TIME and understanding, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), Exposure Therapy, guided imagery, etc.The use of any norephinephine based medication to treat the depression symptoms of PTSD should be used with extreme caution. Research also indicates that alpha and beta blockers can be helpful for rapid pulse, nightmares, and tense muscles (example: propranolol).Finding a counselor and/or therapeutic group is also crucial to healing. It is important to find out if the counselor has experience with PTSD and the types of treatment that they use. Always ask for a treatment plan from ALL practitioners and make sure that all members of the care team (doctors, counselors, social workers) communicate and are aware of what the other is doing.An extreme result of long term, un or undertreated PTSD can be abnormal hormone levels, particularly cortisol. Even medications like anti-depressants that are SSRI’s or SNRI’s can CONTRIBUTE to the dysregulation of hormones.If the veteran continues to become extremely isolated, have extreme lethargy or lack of energy, is overwhelmed by all stimulus and has to “save up” energy to do simple tasks, it is critical that you investigate hormone dysregulation.Specialists include endocrinologists and some naturopathic physicians. Blood and saliva tests are often used, and many times contradict one another. YOU KNOW when something is wrong. Blood tests must be SPECIFIC, and often the test will show negative results and the symptoms continue. Do not give up. You deserve answers. You can tell if something is seriously wrong with the veteran. Continue to seek healing practitioners that really listen and are partners in healing. Do not settle for being minimized or discounted or anyone that infers that “it is all in your head”.  Seek someone who will listen and work with you. Do NOT settle for NO answer.


  6. Sleep Disorders
    (see for more specific definitions).Many veterans that return have sleep problems. These problems can come from a variety of things like time change, continued sleep deprivation and/or disruption of sleep in a combat zone, etc.It is pretty predictable that the veteran will have dysregulated sleep. However, it can become a serious problem if it does not start to “normalize”. If the veteran cannot go to sleep at night, wakes at all hours of the night, or does not readjust to a normal sleep cycle, SEEK HELP IMMEDIATELY. Continued disruption of sleep can add to, and in fact, cause other problems OR may be the result of PTSD. Regardless, lack of sleep, disruption of sleep and irregular sleep MUST BE ADDRESSED.
  7. Substance Dependence
    (see for a more specific definition).Veterans who return home and are having difficulty adjusting, often use drugs and alcohol to “self” medicate. They are often not willing to admit that they are having trouble and will make efforts to ease their symptoms. Some veterans use alcohol to “relax” and any “upper” (caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, etc.) to help them stay awake and/or alert.Excessive and prolonged use of depressants and stimulants begin to add to existing problems. Deeper problems cannot be addressed if the veteran is excessively self-medicating.Also, many times, the veteran will use excuses to take substances. However, a good rule of thumb is that if ANY substance begins to ADD problems to work, family, social, etc., then they ARE a problem.Effective help for substance dependence can be found in 12 step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous ( and Narcotics Anonymous . Many VA Hospitals also have Substance Dependence programs.It is often a “rule of thumb” that the Substance Dependence must be addressed first before addressing other mental health issues.Adding any type of medication to a person that is substance dependent can often intensify, mask and prolong the problem.

    If the use of alcohol or substances is disrupting your family on a regular basis, if you feel like you are walking on “egg-shells” and WANT the veteran in your life to use a substance so he/she will “calm down”, then those are good indications that the veteran has a substance abuse problem that needs addressed… and that you may need the help of AlAnon or other 12-step groups that help with co-dependency.


NEW! Physical Problems that can appear like Psychological Problems

Burn Pits

Burn Pits 360 is serving as a pathway of advocacy to assist veterans, their families, and civilian contractors who have been negatively affected by toxic burn pits.  Contractors were assigned the task of properly disposing of any and all trash on military installations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations in the Middle East. Unfortunately, instead of using incinerators, the contractors disposed of the waste through toxic burn pits and now thousands of veterans have been put at serious risk.  Visit for more information.

Gulf War Veterans Illness Taskforce – 2012
The newest report on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses including medically unexplained multi-symptom illnesses including chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and functional gastrointestinal disorder.


Veterans who experiencing any of the following may want to consider more extensive medical evaluations to determine if they have been exposed to “squalene” an adjuvant used in the Anthrax inoculation. As you can tell, some of these symptoms can “look like” mental health symptoms (headaches, memory loss and cognitive dysfunction), but if any of these other symptoms are present, may require additional medical tests. You can request these tests from your private or VA Medical Primary Care Physician.

If any of the tests are outside the “normal” range, you should ask “why” and “what you should do next”. The goal is to know and understand WHAT is happening so that you have an opportunity to make good choices about your care and lifestyle.


Medical tests to be run include:


Antibodies to Squalene in Gulf War Syndrome

Antibodies to Squalene in Recipients of Anthrax Vaccine

Veterans can develop mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure during their  military service.  Review this website if you have questions about mesothelioma.


Helpful Hints:

  1. Learn as much as you can about the diagnosis.
  2. Learn as much as you can about the treatment and medications.
  3. If the treatment and medications are not making things better OR are making things worse, TALK TO YOUR healing professional. If they do not respond, seek other opinions. You deserve to be heard.
  4. Ask your care team what the Treatment Plan is and to communicate to other members of the care team.
  5. Seek help yourself. You will need support during this time.
  6. Ask the healing professional what you can do to support your soldier.


Resources that may be Helpful:

  1. Resources by author Belleruth Naperstek for trauma. Invisible Heros: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal is an excellent book for PTSD/depression/anxiety and there are wonderful healing CD’s available.
  2. Information about Eye Movement Desensitization Reprosessing and it’s healing potentional for Trauma victims.
  3. Information on Emotional Field Therapy and it’s healing potential for Trauma victims.
  4. Information on the AA 12 step program and path of recovery and meetings available in your hometown.
  5. Information on Narcotics Anonymous and the 12 step program and path to recovery and meetings available in your home town.
  6. Information on Codependents Anonymous – learning how to live with an addicted person and meeting availability in your hometown.
  7. Information on an energy healing process that can be helpful with trauma.


Disclaimer: Veterans’ Families United Foundation does not guarantee results or outcome of the information provided in any of its materials


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