Here is an excellent article written by Lieutenant Robert Hiller which may help some friends of first responders suffering from PTSD. He explains how, especially in social settings, innocent questions can bring painful memories back to those who experienced them.
Although he, as a firefighter of 22 years, wrote the article from a first responder perspective, I know from experience that the same can happen to a member of the military. It is not a good feeling and has had the effect of making me dread social situations where there are people I don’t know.
One point he mentions which I really thought was enlightening, was that we really do need to educate our friends about PTSD. This will allow them to help steer a conversation and hopefully avoid innocent questions from firing up painful memories.
There have been many discussions and studies in recent years about the effects on first responders of long-term exposure to trauma and high levels of stress. After years of service, firefighters and EMTs often suffer from both acute and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The fire service has taken significant steps to help firefighters deal with trauma and PTSD.