• Post-traumatic stress disorder takes place because of exposure to trauma – an event or events so tough to endure or recall that the body chemistry is affected. In some cases, the brain becomes accustomed to the rush of adrenaline and other chemicals. The ability to properly store memories can fall apart. And memories may be so strong that they create the visceral feeling that the memory is actually happening.

• Nightmares or inability to sleep, avoidance of intimacy, inappropriate anger and a reliance on legal or illegal drugs are all common symptoms

• The disorder affects more than just soldiers. Police officers and firefighters are sometimes diagnosed with the problem after witnessing tragedies. Other traumas include rape and sexual assault. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the disorder affects an estimated 5.4 million people every year.

• Treatment options commonly include a variety of medications, one-on-one counseling and group therapy.

• Exposure therapy is gaining momentum. The work exposes patients to some of the sights and sounds associated with the trauma. At each step, patients assert control over the trauma.

• Another evolving treatment takes the opposite course, using practical steps to help patients re-engage with family or control their anger. Psychologist Jerold Hambright at the VA Hospital at Togus encourages patients to make small strides daily. For instance, someone who isolates himself from his family might be told to spend five minutes with a child or engage his spouse in a five-minute conversation. “You’ve got to kind of get them back into life,” Hambright said.