Combat experiences and PTSD

People in the military have many different types of combat experiences. Many of these experiences could cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here are some combat experiences reported by 3,671 Army and Marine Corps personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003.

Chart comparing combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan

* Question not included in Afghanistan survey.

Source: Hoge CW, et al. (2004). Combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental health problems, and barriers to care. New England Journal of Medicine, 351(1): 13–22.

The above combat experiences are traumatic events. PTSD can occur after these types of events.

Experts think PTSD occurs:

  • In about 30% of Vietnam veterans, or about 30 out of 100 Vietnam veterans.1 A more recent review of data seems to show that about 19%, or 19 out of 100 Vietnam veterans, have had symptoms of PTSD.2
  • In as many as 10% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, or in about 10 veterans out of 100.3
  • In about 6% to 11% of veterans of the Afghanistan war (Enduring Freedom), or in 6 to 11 veterans out of 100.4
  • In about 12% to 20% of veterans of the Iraq war (Iraqi Freedom), or in 12 to 20 veterans out of 100.4

1. Kulka RA, et al. (1990). Evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder. In Trauma and the Vietnam War Generation, pp. 50–71. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

2. Dohrenwend BP, et al. (2006). The psychological risks of Vietnam for U.S. veterans: A revisit with new data and method. Science, 313(5789): 979–982.

3. Kang HK, et al. (2003). Post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome-like illness among Gulf War veterans: A population-based survey of 30,000 veterans. American Journal of Epidemiology, 157(2): 141–148.

4. Hoge CW, et al. (2004). Combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, mental health problems, and barriers to care. New England Journal of Medicine, 351(1): 13–22.

Last Updated: January 21, 2009

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Jessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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