Second-Hand PTSD?

by Jere Beery



Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a recognized condition associated with traumatic events which an individual lives through. The diagnostic symptoms for PTSD include re-experiencing the original trauma(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and increased arousal – such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hyper vigilance. PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any life and death experience, the threat of harm or death or sexual assault. The experience overwhelms the person’s ability to deal with social and emotional personal issues or the ability to hold down a job.  In the end the person begins to battle bouts of depression, as well disassociates himself from his family or friends.  PTSD is at times a non-reversible condition that worsens with time, if left untreated.

Over the past several years Operation Firing For Effect has heard from a number of women who have gone through a divorce claiming that they now suffer from PTSD, as the result of having lived with a combat veteran. Up until now I haven’t given these claims any credence. However, now my ex-wife is claiming she suffers from combat related PTSD, as the result of living with me. Therefore, I feel compelled to address the subject.

My ex-wife claims that she suffers from the same level of PTSD that I do, and she feels that the VA should compensate her for her pain and suffering. She has even gone so far as contacting the VA hospital in Atlanta Georgia and requesting information on how she can file a claim.

For the record; Yes, I did served 3 tours during 5 military campaigns in Vietnam from 1965 until 1968. Yes, I saw combat on numerous occasions. Yes, I killed combatants who were trying to kill me. Yes, I was wounded 3 times. Yes, I was severely wounded by a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) and nearly died. And yes, I have disfiguring scars which I see in the mirror every single day, which remind me of all the above. But, my ex-wife wasn’t there during any of this. We weren’t even married until 18 years after I was discharged from the Navy. She never personally experienced any of the incidents I was involved in while in the military.

Over the past several months I have spoken with doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists about the possibility of one person catching PTSD from another. The overwhelming response has been NO. A person can feel compassion and sorrow over what another has shared with them about a traumatic event, and even break down and cry. But, the reality is PTSD is not contagious. In rare cases, a person can subject themselves to a level where the person under goes a transference experience. Transference is a phenomenon in psychoanalysis characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another, excluding the physical aspect of the traumas. However, this is still a second-hand emotional connection and not first-hand trauma induced PTSD.

During the 18 years we were married, there were moments of stress, not unlike any marriage. Towards the end of my marriage there were episodes that even resembled ‘War of the Roses’. And I did share many war stories about my military service with my ex-wife. At no time did she ever indicate that hearing those stories upset her.

Now, here’s the kicker to this story. I have undergone many interviews and filled out numerous questionnaires given to combat veterans by the VA to determine whether or not they suffer from PTSD. At no time in my 45 years enrolled in the VA have I ever been diagnosed with any level of PTSD, and I do not have a PTSD rating on my VA medical records. My ex-wife assumed that since I was receiving disability compensation for my combat injuries I must suffer from PTSD also. Boy, is she in for a surprise.

The day I can honestly say that I know what it feels like to give birth, that will be the day I will agree my ex-wife somehow contracted combat induced PTSD. Frankly, I personally think my ex-wife is suffering from an extremely rare form of emotional disorder known as; PMSD, Post Marital Stress Disorder.

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Posted by on July 12, 2011, With Reads Filed under Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

10 Responses to "Second-Hand PTSD?"

  1. Melissa  August 18, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    I agree in the term of secondary ptsd. I am currently under the effects of my spouse who served in two different combat zones. He does suffer from SEVERE PTSD! For Jere Beery’s response, no I haven’t blown someone’s head and no I am not reacting to his reaction of his combat stress either, when is actions are responding to us having a conversation while he is driving, about our eldest daughter and he starts talking aggressively and then begins to drive erratically down a highway that curvy at a high rate of speed only a week after I had a two level back surgery that placed rods and screws in my spine. Second incident placed our son in the ER with a head concussion. Third incident resulted me being yelled at (not being his spouse) but as if I was an Iraqi soldier or something being commanded to do something. While he was being irate. I get woken up while he is sitting straight up in bed with arms up and out as if he shooting the .50 cal in Iraq yelling get back 50 feet or I will shoot, then the bed starts shaking. I get woke with the conversation of him talking about the blood and body parts that he recovered out the vehicles in Iraq. Then I get woke up with him aim in gun in his sleep ( not a real gun as if he is shooting gun) and yelling commands), and telling his men what to do. Then jumping out of bed and taking cover and yelling for me to do the same. Now I have Narcolepsy wanna now that effects that crap? My neurologist and sleep doctors have no reported me to the DMV and I have now lost my license and the ability to drive because I no longer get the required amount of hours to sleep and I fall asleep driving and I have to fight Tricare all the time to keep the needed medication that keeps me awake. Try that on for size honey!

    So, I would love to talk to these so called fancy ass doctors myself, because I do have a doctor that isn’t associated to the military. I pay out the butt for it. I get my electric turned off to do so, because if I don’t I will commit suicide to honest. I got denied for every program I have applied for with DoD and the VA trying to help him. But, the children don’t feel safe at home. I have had to have the gun safe re drilled because he has gone after someone with a gun! so anytime you wanna pack a bag and come give me a break for a week or two and take my place I am ready for a vacation and I pretty sure you will leave with a different perspective. By the way he has attended an 8 week in residential PTSD treatment program. He has been under pych care for about four years. Not much improvement. We are about homeless now. So you may want to shop for a big cardboard box to bring, the temps here are in the triple digits and we don’t run the air much either until he starts sweating because we only live on his military retirement of an E-6.

    I pray everday to God that they hurry up with his re-evaluation that has been pending since February and his Social Security Claim. Me since I can’t drive and I can’t work because of him and some one has to take care of him I don’t have any income. Do you have any suggestions?

    Guess the good Lord will prevail he usually does..good thing I still have my faith and hope that is the only thing I have left, because I have sold just about everything else including my clothes trying to live waiting waiting waiting.

    Have anything else to bash us poor damn careless caretaker about to knock us down some more?

  2. Me  July 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Jere Beery— and Jennifer— as a former vet wife let me see if I can help explain the two. First off- Jere- my whole heart is the most motto marine wife you could ever meet. My ex lost 40+ guys. The ones left are a part of me. I’d give an arm for any of them that needed it. When you love someone under the conditions that grunt wives face — their battle becomes a part of you. When they come home, not the same man that they use to be, it riddles your soul. The everyday life of post combat is something I will never be able to put into words. When you live it everyday, the sole caregiver…. the one that is there when the horrors of war break open the man you love… it kills you to. And it goes so fast that you don’t have time to slow down and deal with how its effecting you. And why would you- your #1 is for your husband. When the bottom falls out, years later– the grief and all the effects of years of it finally hit you. And its traumatizing. Nightmares, jumpy, numbness, depression, anger, on and on. Would I ever compare my junk with my ex’s or any of the guys. Hell no. But is there a valid place for what I and many wives have dealt with? Yes. I don’t want to end up down the bottle and worse so I force myself in counseling now. What does the VA call my shit? Secondary PTSD. The trauma of trauma. Do I tell people that? No. Do i even like the term PTSD? No its shit all all fronts. Would I make a claim to the VA? No. But do I think there is a HUGE need for them to offer help to spouses, ex-spouses. Wholeheartedly. Its desperately needed. War changes everyone- affects all who come near it. Nobody walks away unscathed. I have more love and respect for all the guys, for your service and your heart for what you’ve lived through. Just try and see that the strong women that fight to the death of themselves in great love for their marines and soldiers– picking up the fragments in the aftermath of war– may not have seen your combat but we’ve lived it. Its just a different war.

  3. Jere Beery  July 17, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Jennifer, I’m not a doctor, however, I am a combat veteran. Your reactions to your husband’s tours of duty is not the same as being there yourself. You are reacting to his behavior after the fact. Have you ever blown someone’s head off? Have you ever been under intense fire? Have you ever been shot? No, of course you haven’t. But, if you live with someone that has, their behavior will affect you. You will feel stressed out, sorrow, emotional pain. But, you do not have combat related PTSD.

  4. Jennifer  July 17, 2011 at 8:43 am

    I completely disagree. Maybe in this scenario the woman was out to get money, but the idea that you can get PTSD from your spouse being in a combat situation is very real. How do I know this? Because I have felt the same way. My husband was in 3 year long tours to Iraq and each time he came home I felt our symptoms were worse. (He did not realize he may have PTSD until a year after his last tour.) I have never tried to receive compensation for this. Some symptoms I have experienced have included having severe anxiety attacks anytime he needed to travel for any reason. (Maybe because he was a combat driver for his first 2 tours, I don’t know.) During his third deployment I went to the doctor numerous times only to find that the diarrhea I was experiencing up to 25 times a day, was due to the extreme stress of wondering everyday if he was going to come back. I even started exhibiting symptoms of OCD saying the same prayer every night in the same way and believing that if I didn’t he would surely die. I have become a nervous wreck over the past couple of years and believe it or not, I believe HIS experiences caused all of this. Keep in mind any good spouse is at home worrying over whether or not their spouse will come back to them. All that stress is bound to manifest it self in some way.

  5. Dick G.  July 15, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    I disagree with Simon completely. This country has become one of entitlement. Some head shrinker came up with this bull idea of second hand PTSD is a perfect example of looney tunes. No doubt in my mind that Simon never looked down the barrel of a gun blasting away at him on numerous occasions at close range.

    I know Jere Beery did because I was with him on many occasions and for his ex wife to want to cash in because of the terrible wounds Jere suffered is pathetic and unconscionable. I know the woman and it is shameful of her to ask to benefit from another persons extreme wounds. The same goes for any other person that wants to benefit from a combat wounded veteran.

  6. Simon Alvarado  July 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    PMSD is not a clinical diagnosis acknowledge by any psychiatric DSM manual. It is a condition that subjects the spouse to the possibilities that maybe there was a transference phenomenon which is unlikely, since PTSD has to do with a traumatic life and death experience in one’s life. However, there is a condition which exposes the former spouse to a post emotional or physical abuse where such conditions existed during the marriage. If the spouse felt threaten by the behavior of the veteran. This is possible since the residuals of PTSD exhibits behavior which may act out aggressive and sometimes violent reactions when veteran is exposed to extreme stress. These outrage behaviors may manifest in aggression, whether verbal or physical. This acting behavior can impose serious psychological problems on the victim. Is this a potential claim for the VA, absolutely, if the department was negligent in treating the condition and left untreated. PTSD has a potential of improvement, if treatment or intervention is done soon after the trauma. For most Vietnam veterans like me treatment was never offered until years after returning back in country. And when they did they stop groups abruptly, because the VA considered too chronic for any improvement. The VA wanted to make room for the new kids in the block, but they failed to adequately treat the problem. If the VA knew about the family situation at home and never treated the spouse, I would consider this claim to be legit, more because of the failure to response to the problem. Is PTSD contagious, NO.? If you hang out with the boys or the girls they will not undergo what a wounded veteran has gone through. Good article, Jere.

  7. Betty  July 12, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Some people will claim anything for $$$. The cure to her problem: GET A JOB. (Although I suspect she’s already being compensated by you.) If the whole world didn’t have their hands out maybe our country wouldn’t be on the brink of financial collapse. Do I have a right to my opinion–YES. My spouse did 3 tours in Nam 65-68; diagnosed with PTSD for years without putting in a claim and is now dying of AO related cancers and other AO related illnesses. Some days are pure HELL. Would I trade a single day of the last 45 years with him? No. GOD BLESS VIET NAM VETS and ALL of their military brothers.

  8. Jere Beery  July 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    There are no links on the subject, and there is no compensation associated with PMSD.

  9. 60sstreetpunk  July 12, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Clarification: if money not involved for spouses, what is rate of PTSD and PMSD?

  10. 60sstreetpunk  July 12, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Does PMSD have any links with possibility of compensation for spouses?

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