Survivor guilt: the monster haunting U.S. vets

By April 1, 2016
SFM_Warriors Set Free survivor guilt
Opioids, though widely-prescribed, are unsuccessful in treating survivor guilt. (Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

USA (MNN) — Reports surfaced this week revealing a new problem among U.S. veterans: opioid overdose.

Opioids are often prescribed to treat chronic pain, a problem faced by over half of all vets. Not all chronic pain results from physical injury, though.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is gaining attention in the medical field. But, one aspect is still being ignored.

“Survivor guilt is almost another name for PTSD altogether,” shares Steve Prince of Warriors Set Free, a division of Set Free Ministries.

Survivor guilt and PTSD

As defined here, survivor guilt includes “feelings of guilt for having survived a catastrophe in which others died.” As Prince describes, “PTSD has a lot of different facets, but survivor guilt is a big part of it.

“Veterans go way out of their way to accept responsibility for events, or accidents…. We’re trained to be responsible, we’re trained to be accountable.”

SFM_Warriors Set Free survivor guilt

(Photo courtesy Warriors Set Free via Facebook)

In the civilian world, approximately 8- 15% of people who experience trauma develop severe PTSD symptoms like survivor guilt.

Statistics range widely when it comes to veterans and PTSD; some cite a prevalence of 20% among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, while other reports claim the frequency is closer to 14%.

Either way, PTSD is still the “third most-prevalent psychiatric diagnosis among veterans using the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals.”

Survivor guilt is a burden carried by almost every veteran who comes to Warriors Set Free for “freedom appointments.” These are sessions designed to help veterans overcome the wounds of war through biblical veteran-to-veteran counseling.

“When we see guys being destroyed and beat up by guilt, we know that’s a tactic, We call it TTP: Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. That’s a TTP of our spiritual enemy, and he wants us to carry that guilt,” Prince explains.

“Whatever we did or did not do, whatever the situation is, we have to look at forgiveness…and if we can’t forgive ourselves (which, there’s semantics in there), it’s a matter of accepting forgiveness that Jesus Christ paid for.”

Finding freedom

This revelation, as well as walking through the process of forgiveness, brings freedom. Some vets, like Kevin Kruk, want to help other veterans emerge from darkness.

(Photo courtesy Warriors Set Free via Facebook)

(Photo courtesy Warriors Set Free via Facebook)

“We see the light come on a lot. Part of the enemy’s strategy is to accuse you,” says Prince, referencing Revelation 12:10. “The enemy will whisper lies into your ear, and if you don’t know it’s coming from him, you’ll think it’s your own thoughts.

“I tell veterans, ‘When you listen to those lies, you’re doing the work of the enemy… You wouldn’t do the work of the enemy in combat, so don’t do it here.'”

Listen to other techniques that help veterans find freedom from survivor guilt.

Another important lesson is distinguishing the difference between goals and desires. Often, the “success” of a deployment–at least for commanders–is returning home with your troop intact. That’s the “goal” of each mission, and a mission is therefore successful if it accomplishes this goal.

However, by definition, goals are something you have complete control over. “When you deploy, those ‘goals’ are actually desires,” Prince explains. “I have a desire that no soldier dies. But, we know it’s dangerous.

“If the enemy does their job, just like we do our job, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It just means that you’ve done something dangerous, and there’s a cost for that.”

(Logo courtesy Warriors Set Free)

(Logo courtesy Warriors Set Free)

Warriors Set Free is located in West Michigan, but you don’t have to live there to get help for a veteran you love. You can reach Steve by e-mail to discuss counseling options: [email protected]

“I’ll be happy to help anyone, anywhere…. I’ll help as many [vets] as I can.”

Learn more about the ministry of Warriors Set Free here.


  • Cesar says:

    Not only do veterans suffer from ptsd. I’ve had it since I was six years old and I agree that only God can heal me.

  • Donna Wray says:

    Hi Steve
    I’m a 57 year old USAF retiree w/ 20 years of service & a 70% disabled vet. To make a very long story as short as I possibly can….I suffer from Survivors Guilt, PTSD, Severe Depression, Social Phobias, ADD, etc. And to add insult to injury, I’ve just begun to recall many horrific repressed memories. I live in a rural area where most people avoid people like me. I’ve been completely alone (unmarried & always had a very limited social life) since early childhood & have come to realize that (for people like me) being alone on a constant basis is indescribably painful & intensifies all related symptoms. About 3 years ago, I became so desperate for relief that I underwent a series of 9 ECT treatments w/ no results. I’ve been blacklisted by my entire extended family (including my mom) & have now lost ALL hope. I am a Christian. However, this does nothing to negate the fact that I’ve lost all hope/desire to live this way. I’m now completely out of options & have begun the process of preparing my will , donating my viable organs & donating the rest of my body (especially my brain) to scientific research which will (hopefully) result in finding a way to alleviate or (God willing) perhaps even discover a cure for these horrific illnesses. I just ran across your info online. Considering the above details, are you aware of any other Christian-based treatment resources that I could afford and or possibly benefit from?

Leave a Reply