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Combat Stress

Definition Combat stress, also known as battle fatigue or combat fatigue, refers to the psychological impact and emotional strain experienced by military personnel during or after engaging in combat situations. It can manifest as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The term is used predominantly within the context of veterans’ assistance […]


Combat stress, also known as battle fatigue or combat fatigue, refers to the psychological impact and emotional strain experienced by military personnel during or after engaging in combat situations. It can manifest as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The term is used predominantly within the context of veterans’ assistance programs to address mental health support and services available for military personnel affected by combat stress.

Key Takeaways

  1. Combat Stress refers to the mental, emotional, or physical reactions that service members may experience during or after military operations, often resulting from the traumatic events or high-pressure situations faced in combat zones.
  2. Common signs and symptoms of Combat Stress include anxiety, irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, nightmares, flashbacks, and feelings of isolation, which can impact a service member’s quality of life and overall well-being.
  3. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers resources and support for veterans experiencing Combat Stress, including counseling services, mental health programs, educational resources, and disability compensation to aid in managing the challenges faced by those affected by Combat Stress.


The term “Combat Stress” is important in the context of VA benefits because it acknowledges the unique mental and emotional challenges faced by military personnel who have been exposed to combat situations.

The psychological impacts of combat, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression, can significantly impair a veteran’s ability to function in civilian life, and have long-lasting consequences for their mental health and well-being.

By specifically recognizing Combat Stress, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can better address the mental health needs of veterans and offer targeted treatments and support programs, such as counseling, therapy, and disability compensation, to aid in their transition and ensure they receive the appropriate care and assistance on their path to recovery.


Combat stress, also referred to as battle fatigue or shell shock, is a term used to describe the psychological and emotional toll that active military personnel face while operating in high-intensity combat environments. The primary purpose of acknowledging combat stress is to better understand the challenges faced by service members and provide resources to address their mental health needs. Recognizing the impact of combat stress on the well-being of military personnel is essential in minimizing potential long-term effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and suicide risk.

Providing support and therapeutic interventions for those dealing with combat stress can facilitate recovery and increase overall readiness within the military community. Addressing combat stress plays a crucial role in the VA’s mission to provide comprehensive support to veterans, active duty personnel, and their families. The VA has implemented initiatives like the Readjustment Counseling Service, composed of Vet Centers across the country that offer confidential mental health services specifically tailored for individuals struggling with combat stress.

Additionally, the VA incorporates telehealth services to extend access to mental health resources and support, particularly for those in remote locations or unable to access a VA facility easily. Furthermore, preventative efforts are made by the Department of Defense through resilience training programs in preparing servicemen and women before deployment for the unique challenges they may face. By addressing combat stress, the VA aims to facilitate the successful reintegration of veterans and active duty personnel back into civilian life, and promote their overall mental well-being.

Examples of Combat Stress

Combat Stress, also known as Combat Stress Reaction (CSR), is a common response to prolonged exposure to extreme stress during military operations. It can manifest through various symptoms, including emotional, physical, and behavioral changes. Here are three real-world examples of veterans dealing with Combat Stress:

Vietnam War Veteran:A Vietnam War veteran experiences persistent nightmares and flashbacks of traumatic combat experiences. He struggles with feelings of guilt and hyper-vigilance, making it difficult for him to feel comfortable or safe in civilian life. After several years, he seeks help from a VA medical center and is diagnosed with PTSD as a result of his Combat Stress. With proper treatment and counseling, he gradually starts to manage his symptoms and regain control over his daily life.

Gulf War Veteran:A Gulf War veteran has trouble forming and maintaining relationships due to unresolved Combat Stress. She is plagued by memories of seeing fellow soldiers injured or killed in combat and has a constant feeling of being on edge. Over time, this veteran starts to withdraw from friends and family and isolates herself. Eventually, she learns about various VA benefits and outreach programs, leading her to seek support and counseling at a local VA facility. With the support of mental health professionals and peer support groups, she can work on healing from her Combat Stress.

Afghanistan War Veteran:An Afghanistan War veteran returns home after multiple deployments and is constantly irritable and anxious. He struggles to sleep and is prone to angry outbursts, leading to difficulties in his marriage and career. After losing his job and putting strain on his marriage, the veteran contacts a VA mental health counselor. He is diagnosed with Combat Stress and begins cognitive-behavioral therapy to cope with his anxiety and reestablish healthy communication patterns. Over time, with a combination of mental health resources and VA benefits, the veteran can reintegrate into civilian society and manage his Combat Stress symptoms effectively.

FAQs on Combat Stress

What is combat stress?

Combat stress, also known as combat stress reaction, is a common response to the mental and emotional strain experienced by military personnel during or after combat situations. It may include a wide range of symptoms such as anxiety, depression, anger, grief, guilt, and other emotional and mental challenges.

How does combat stress affect veterans?

Combat stress can have a significant impact on veterans’ mental health, relationships, and ability to function in civilian life. It may cause difficulty in adjusting to new environments, maintaining healthy relationships, and managing emotions. In some cases, it can lead to more severe mental health issues like PTSD or depression.

What are the signs and symptoms of combat stress?

The signs and symptoms of combat stress can vary for each individual but may include irritability, mood swings, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, sleep disturbances, excessive worry or anxiety, feelings of guilt, flashbacks or nightmares, social isolation, and substance abuse.

How can veterans cope with combat stress?

Veterans can cope with combat stress by seeking support from mental health professionals, engaging in self-care practices like regular exercise and healthy eating, staying connected with family and friends, joining veteran support groups, practicing relaxation techniques, and addressing any co-occurring health issues.

What resources are available for veterans experiencing combat stress?

Several resources are available to help veterans experiencing combat stress, including the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255), VA health care providers, Vet Centers, and military support services. Additionally, many non-profit organizations and online platforms offer resources and support for veterans coping with combat stress and associated mental health concerns.

Related VA Benefit Terms

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Combat-related mental health conditions
  • Trauma-sensitive care for veterans
  • Veterans Administration (VA) mental health services
  • Resilience-building programs for service members

Sources for More Information

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