One out of five soldiers returning from Afghanistan suffers from it. And the estimate is as high as one in three for those returning from Iraq. Trouble is, they often suffer in silence.
Marine Corps Sergeant Severa Rodriquez knows this and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) all too well: bad dreams, scary flashbacks, insomnia, angry outbursts, and thoughts of hurting yourself or others.
"It was real hard," says Severa. "I was still kind of bitter, still kind of angry, still motivated. I loved the Marine Corps and didn't want to get out. I was supposed to reenlist."
However, a sniper attack in Fallujah left her with a bad knee. Severa injured the knee again in a motorcycle accident ten days before her third deployment to Iraq.
"I messed it up in Iraq even more. I carried my MOPP (mission oriented protective posture) pack and my sea bag at the same time even though I wasn't supposed to have any pressure on my knee. But I never complained about it. I just bit on a piece of wood and kept going."
Severa worked with a marine post office in Iraq that sorted more than 100 shipping containers of mail a day. "They're 18-wheeler containers. Head to toe, left to right, filled with mail, and one by one you're undoing it. Mail is a priority. Loved ones back home sending cards, letters, and care packages with jars of pickles, hot sauce, cookies, all sorts of stuff."
Her knee required surgery, so Severa was unable to reenlist like she wanted. She was discharged from the military in 2005, and went back home to Texas, trying to put it all behind her. But she could never forget the Marine who lost his life in a mail plane that was shot down.
"When he passed away, I'm like, that's supposed to be me, not him. He has a wife and a kid. I had no kids. It just could have happened to me instead of him."
Back home, Severa discovered first-hand how difficult the adjustment to civilian life can be when you've dedicated your heart to the military.
"Civilians often don't understand you have discipline, leadership, organizing everything. I get emotional on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and July 4. I'll defend my family and protect them because that's what I'm used to; you're supposed to protect."
Severa says her sister has helped her deal with PTSD and the isolation and challenges she faces.
"She's very motivating. 'You're a marine,' she says, 'you don't give up.' She gets me through the day. She understands what I'm going through. My sister is very inspirational. She's encouraged me to speak to other female veterans. Because it can be hard on us."
After participating in a Project Odyssey™ with Wounded Warrior Project®, an outdoor rehabilitative retreat for warriors dealing with combat stress, Severa enrolled in TRACK™ where she is taking college classes with other Wounded Warriors. The experience has made her socialize more and is helping to shape her post-military future.
"I really want to work with Wounded Warrior Project. The program is awesome. I want to volunteer and help other people out, so that way, I know I'm here for a cause. I'm here to help others."