Empowering Veteran Service Providers: A Guide to Understanding PTS and Opioid Use


Understanding the Connection

In the evolving landscape of veteran healthcare, the intersection of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and opioid use is a critical challenge, marked by complex dynamics of pain management and the risk of dependency. This article equips veteran service providers with essential insights and tools to effectively navigate the details of PTS and opioid misuse. [1] By understanding the neurobiological and psychological effects of PTS—how it heightens pain sensitivity and alters stress responses—providers can better recognize signs of opioid misuse and intervene appropriately. This knowledge is vital in supporting veterans to manage not only their physical pain but also emotional turmoil, fostering resilience and recovery. [2]

Opioid Prescriptions Among Veterans

Managing opioid prescriptions is crucial in the veteran community due to the high prevalence of mental health and substance use disorders. For instance, 10.7% of Army personnel and 6.5% in the Marine Corps are diagnosed with mental health disorders, increasing the risk for opioid dependency, particularly among those with PTS or combat experience. Nearly 25% of veterans with PTS are also likely to suffer from substance use disorders, making careful prescription and monitoring essential. [3]

The Role of Veteran Support Systems

Veteran support networks—families, friends, and community groups—are crucial in the recovery from opioid addiction. Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) enhance these supports by funding training programs and creating resources that help these networks provide comprehensive care, which can be an alternative to opioid prescription. They enable the formation of support groups tailored to veterans’ needs and promote community integration of services, thus reducing the stigma of addiction. These efforts bolster the ecosystem surrounding veterans, ensuring they receive the necessary support for successful recovery from opioid dependence and post-traumatic stress. [4]

Integrated Care Models

Access to these alternatives often depends on the resources available, which is where Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) come into play. PPPs facilitate access by funding diverse treatment programs and educating healthcare providers on the benefits and application of these therapies. They also play a crucial role in raising awareness among veterans about available non-opioid options, ensuring these treatments are not only available but also tailored to the veterans’ specific health needs. Through these partnerships, veterans access a wider range of therapeutic options that support holistic recovery and long-term wellness. [4]

Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies such as physical therapy, acupuncture, and cognitive-behavioral therapy offer effective pain relief and psychological healing for veterans, reducing reliance on opioids. These therapies address the comprehensive needs of veterans, encompassing both physical ailments and mental health challenges associated with conditions like PTS. [5]

Training and Education

Through partnerships with healthcare bodies and educational institutions, PPPs facilitate specialized training and public awareness campaigns. These initiatives aim to destigmatize PTS and substance use among veterans, promoting supportive community environments.

Resource Enhancement

PPPs harness private funding to innovate and improve therapeutic programs and introduce advanced technologies like telemedicine, expanding veterans’ access to care.

PPPs form coalitions that unite healthcare professionals, community leaders, and private sector partners to pool resources and coordinate efforts, enhancing comprehensive care and fostering innovation in supporting veterans.

Intended Impact

Veteran service providers are urged to harness the insights and strategies discussed here, including leveraging Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), to enhance their support and advocacy for veterans facing the dual challenges of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and opioid use. Providers can build a more effective and empathetic support network by deepening their understanding of these complexities and embracing innovative care solutions. [7] This network will address immediate needs and foster long-term resilience among veterans. To further equip yourselves, engage with specialized resources like the podcast “Serving Veterans with Substance Use Disorders” (Episode 17) and the NVTI course, 9610/SUDS: Career Coaching for Special Populations: Serving Veterans with Substance Use Disorders (SUDs). Together, we can transform our approach to veteran care, ensuring every veteran receives the comprehensive support they deserve. [8]

Streamlined Support Strategies for Veteran Service Providers

  • Educational Outreach: Distribute pamphlets on the risks of self-medication and recognizing PTS, with signage in key areas like bathrooms to educate on available support.
  • Training and Workshops: Offer effective training on managing self-medication and mental health. Conduct community workshops on healthy coping mechanisms and the risks of substance use.
  • Support Networks: Establish support groups for PTS. Offer childcare at events to facilitate attendance.
  • Strategic Partnerships: Increase skilled mental health providers within the VA and private practices. Educate veterans on navigating healthcare options and simplify access to care. Use litigation funds for partnerships that enhance coordinated care and develop peer support networks to aid recovery and prevent relapse. [6]


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, October). Substance use and military life DrugFacts.

[2] U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019, October 17). PTSD and substance abuse in veterans.

[3] Teeters, J.B., Lancaster, C.L., Brown, D.G., & Back, S.E. (2017). Substance use disorders in  and treatment challenges. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 8, 69-77.

[4] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). Department of Veterans Affairs mental health  services: Need, usage, and access and barriers to care. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

[5] U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2021, June 15). PTSD basics.

[6] Peer Support Workers for those in Recovery. ( 2023, October 03) The role of peer supports and services

[7] Meffert, B.N., Morabito, D.M., Sawicki, D.A., Hausman, C., Southwick, S.M., Pietrzak, R.K., & Heinz, A.J. (2019). US  veterans who do and do not utilize Veterans Affairs health care services: Demographic, military, medical, and psychosocial characteristics. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 21(1).

[8] NVTI Resources: NVTI On-Demand Learning