There have been numerous wars and military conflicts across the years that have drawn our troops away from their families and homes. Often deployed multiple times within their career, these brave soldiers are called to serve in some of the most hostile environments imaginable and then somehow expected to return to society with ease – a very tall order, considering the extreme circumstances of combat.
Unfortunately, despite the promise of glory and sufficient health benefits and security for their families, once they arrive home, the life of the average American soldier is anything but secure. A soldier will be the first to say there are many pros to be thankful for but there is also a worthwhile story that tells exactly what trials an American veteran goes through upon their homecoming and how they go about adjusting to their new normal.
I) ADJUSTIMENT IS AN EVERYDAY BATTLE:
It’s sad to say but veterans that return home from war are on the underdog’s side of statistics. In total, there are over 2.3 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and, according to costsofwar.org, almost 700,000 of them currently have some degree of an officially recognized disability, as a result of these wars – this figure doesn’t even consider “Vietnam Era” veterans that are reportedly worse off.
While Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is likely the largest of the individual disabilities (to be discussed in more detail below), there are a number of other habitual issues that plague an American soldier’s assimilation into society in their day-to-day. Many veterans, as they transition from a militant mentality to a civilian society, can:
- Feel isolated and alone, like no one understands them.
- Feel alienated due to a distinct lack of structure and goals that they were accustomed to in their military life.
- Become increasingly irritated by others that seem more laid-back or less detail-oriented than they’re use to.
- Miss the physical rush of life-threatening situations.
- Worry about their finances.
Further, to review some alarming numbers, a recent sample of 600 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan found that 39% of vets abuse alcohol, 3% abuse drugs (many of which are military prescriptions) and depression was rampant across the board. As an assumptive result, alcohol use associated with physical domestic violence in Army families increased by 54%, child abuse by 40% and veteran suicide rates are thought to be as high as 5,000 per year, even though one-third of these suicides are by veterans that were never deployed to war zones.
Whether it’s marginal issues in the more mundane tasks of the day-to-day or larger, darker demons that control all, each veteran experiences their own battle of adjustment back into society – some big, some small.
II) THE WAR ON PTSD:
As referenced above, PTSD is likely one of the leading deterrents from a vet’s smooth transition back into normality. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, commonly known as PTSD, shell shock or combat stress is a disorder that stems from a severe, traumatic event (such as combat) and can later reveal itself under a number of problematic symptoms:
- Recurring memories of the event(s)
- Anxiety in crowds and high action settings
- Apathy / loss of interest / feeling numb
- Feeling emotionally removed from others
- Anger and irritability
Of course, there are varying degrees of these symptoms but the disability has been cited as concrete. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD estimates that about 7% of civilians will have PTSD at some point in their lives, however, as much as 20% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and upwards of 30% of Vietnam veterans have fallen victim to the disorder.
When combined with the fact that 19% of veterans may have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while in action, carrying with it its own set of limiting symptoms, these numbers pair to paint a potent recipe of difficulties when it comes to adapting to life after combat.
III) VETRAN BENEFITS:
With all of these documented disorders in the wake of military service, life after duty is heavily reliant on a robust benefits package. That said, in addition to the pensions and benefits that veterans may be entitled to (because of both public and private employment), vets may also be eligible for other benefits based on their past military service and assuming they fall into an eligible discharge status.
The Department of Veterans Administration offers a variety of programs that offer medical, financial and other vital assistance for veterans. For military veterans who have received an honorable or general discharge, there are four primary benefit programs that adjusting vets can pull support from:
- Disability Compensation:
Veterans who have suffered a service-related disability, injury or disease can qualify for up to $3,100 in monthly, tax-free compensation benefits.
- Pension Programs:
Wartime veterans that are no longer able to work (and/or have a limited income) may qualify for the Veterans Disability Pension or the Veterans Pension for Veterans 65 or older.
- Medical Care:
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs is required by law to provide medical services that, by definition, will promote, preserve and restore health. With that, eligible veterans have access to VA Hospitals for treatment of injury, illness, rehabilitation, alcohol/drug dependence, etc.
- Educational Programs:
Under the GI Bill, a variety of educational programs have been established to encourage and assist vets in pursuing higher education, by helping cover the costs associated with further schooling and/or training.
Aside from these four core benefit programs, there are a number of other fringe benefits that each aim to set up veterans for success.
- Subsidized housing and home loan guarantees
- Job training and job placement
- Small businesses loans through the Small Business Administration
- Counseling and PTSD Support
- Burials and memorials
- Franchise opportunities (Vet Fran)
Even with these favorable benefits, according to a recent RAND study, it’s worth noting that only 50% of those with PTSD actually sought treatment and, out of the half that actually pursued treatment, only half of those received “minimally adequate” treatment. Yes, the military offers comparable health benefits, however, it’s vital that veterans use the benefits afforded to them, while re-adjusting to their new life.
IV) VETERAN EMPLOYMENT RATES & TRENDS:
In 2013, the overall unemployment rate in the United States averaged 7.4% but finished at 6.7% by December. While this was a historically favorable rate for the civilian population, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, during that same period, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty at any time since September 2001 was 9.0% – more than 2% higher than the civilian population!
Although this disparity is alarming, that’s not to say that veterans are hopeless when it comes to finding employment upon their homecoming. On the contrary, the military has a number of job placement programs in place and teaches a variety of skills that translate wonderfully into the modern workforce. Yes, aside from preferential treatment for federal jobs, according to a study performed by PayScale.com, the following is a list of the top skills taught to military members and the 15 most common jobs landed as a result.
TOP SKILLS TAUGHT:
- Emergency room preparedness
- Computer security
- Microsoft SQL server
- Electronic troubleshooting
- Security risk management
- Security policies and procedures
- Cisco networking
- Contractor management
- Program management
TOP JOBS LANDED (AS A RESULT):
- Management consultant
- Program manager, IT
- Systems analyst
- FBI agent
- Field service engineer, medical equipment
- Systems engineer, computer networking, IT
- Information technology (IT) consultant
- Intelligence analyst
- Helicopter pilot
- Network engineer, IT
- Project manager, construction
- Technical writer
- Business development manager
- Network administrator, IT
- HVAC service technician
As you can see, the military clearly imparts valuable leadership skills and timely technological talents. With this potent toolbox of applicable skills and knowledge, veterans are comfortably able to find jobs after returning home from service, despite the troubled economy and the competitive landscape of the modern workforce.
V) FAMILY LIFE:
While most soldiers spend the majority of their deployment dreaming of the day they can be reunited with their families, often times the transition back to Home Life is turbulent. In fact, the longer the time the veteran has spent away and the more frequent their stints in active warfare, the more difficult it gets to adjust into a crowded house.
As referenced in the first section, even though the soldier may be surrounded by the people they love most, there are some inherent hurdles to navigate when it comes to coming home. Be it isolationism, anxiety, irritability, short-temperament or general disinterest, it’s important that the family fully understands the plight of the displaced soldier and that they realize it’s nothing personal – it’s a phase that requires communal compassion and patience, as the veteran works at their own pace to get back to good.
As much as a veteran looks forward to their homecoming, often times the “return to normal” is anything but “normal” – it’s a sudden jolt that can cause a soldier to feel lost in a familiar setting. Fortunately, with all of the disorders that can arise from combat, there are an equal number of programs in place to ease the transition, so that the American soldier may know they are not forgotten.