Veterans' Families: The Social Impact of PTSD

The story of war on the home front isn't complete without understanding its effect on military families.

This video was produced by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma from interviews conducted at "When Veterans Come Home," a conference held in Atlanta in 2010, sponsored by Dart Center, the McCormick Foundation and the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program. For more interviews on this subject, see our Videos on Veterans.

When people think of the psychological effects of war, they naturally think of the soldiers. But the families, friends and communities of military service members carry a psychic burden of their own. Journalists covering how combat abroad comes home need to fully understand and tell their stories.

Matthew Friedman, executive director of the National Center for PTSD, Sonja Batten, deputy director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, and retired Marine Corporal Michael Jernigan say each story of a veteran's family is unique, but also universal.


Sonja Batten: If their next-door neighbor doesn't really understand the stress that, you know, Jane Smith is under, because her husband is in Iraq, because they don't know anybody else who's in the military, that means that Jane's not getting the support that she needs as well.

Michael Jernigan: My dad's a Vietnam War veteran. My dad has post-traumatic stress disorder. There is a secondary trauma that comes from that. There are people that have lived with somebody with post-traumatic stress that experience a different type of reality than, say, somebody that doesn't live with somebody with PTSD.

Matthew Friedman: It's important to understand how toxic PTSD can be to a family, how it can really mess up developing kids, in terms of their sense of security, their sense of themselves, their sense of their parents, the sense of their world, so I think we need to get away from a very narrow diagnosis and treatment perspective and try to understand all of the ripple effects.

And that's not just true with PTSD: You've got a very brittled juvenile diabetic in the family, that's going to affect the family dynamic. You've got cancer. I mean, there's nothing unique about these things. Maybe that's another thing: In some ways PTSD is very unique, and in some ways it really isn't. So there's a lot we can learn from what we know already and just apply it.

Additional video by Charles Mostoller and Daniel Johnson-Kim.