Combat Compassion Fatigue

Caregivers get worn out. Caregivers are usually the last ones to get the help they need. When the caregiver is all given out, then everyone suffers. I am a strong proponent of caregiver care. We are the lifeline. We are the ones who hold it together. It’s a lot to do, but we can do it IF we take care of ourselves. It’s not selfish. It’s not wrong. It’s not bad. It’s necessary. It’s vital. It’s essential. If you are well you can care for your soldier. If you are not well you can not. It’s that black and white in some cases.

Here’s a website that deals with combat compassion fatigue or what I call “vicarious PTSD” or “PTSD by proxy.” We may not have experienced combat directly, but we experience the fall out from it every time we help our loved one deal with his/her symptoms of PTSD or other combat related issues.

Here’s a small excerpt from PTSD Support.


Combat Compassion Fatigue

What is Compassion Fatigue?

  • A reaction experienced by care givers who suffer trauma from the event(s) that have traumatized their patients.
  • It is NOT “Burnout”, which results from increased workload and institutional stress.
  • It is NOT “Countertransference”.which refers to how our patients affect our lives, our social networks, our work, and our relationships. Countertransference may co-occur with Compassion Fatigue, however.

Just like Post Traumatic Disorder has several names, so does Compassion Fatigue:

  1. Also called “Vicarious Traumatization” and “Secondary Trauma”.
  2. With “Burnout” and “Countertransference” there may be no exposure to the trauma of others.
  3. With Compassion Fatigue, Vicarious Traumatization, and Secondary Trauma, the care giver suffers because of the trauma experienced by the patient.


  • Nurses
  • Doctors
  • Chaplains
  • Paraprofessional’s—91Ws
  • Volunteers

Others who work in high intensity areas with severe trauma patients—Field Medics, ER’s, ICUs.

  • Graves Registration workers
  • Body, body parts handlers
  • Mental health workers—it is not only physical trauma,
    but psychological trauma exposure that can lead to compassion fatigue


  1. Those who have a history of trauma are more vulnerable to compassion fatigue.
  2. Those care givers who are inexperienced, and fear not being able to do their jobs, who are afraid of what they might see!
  3. Care givers who are in danger themselves—field medics!

We have not been directly exposed to the trauma scene, but we hear the story told with such intensity, or we hear similar stories so often, or we have the gift and curse of extreme empathy and we suffer. We feel the feelings of our clients. We experience their fears. We dream their dreams. Eventually, we lose a certain spark of optimism, humor and hope. We tire. We aren’t sick, but we aren’t ourselves.


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