Every veteran has a story about why they made the decision to enlist in the armed forces. For some, it was to continue a family legacy of serving their country. For others, it was the only opportunity to get a college education. Still others enlisted because it would give them perks like healthcare, housing, and a paycheck. Some young people enlist in the military because they just don’t know what to do with their lives after they graduate high school. Hunger and poverty are also reasons that drive youth to military service. Regardless of the reasons that bring someone into the military, most enter military duty with a sense of pride and purpose. The sense of honor and duty to country often remains long after the call to duty. For our heroes who face the war zone, the mental effects of combat also last for life.
The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) is becoming increasingly aware of post-war effects on veterans like anxiety, hypervigilance disorder, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and PTSD. With so many veterans discharging from military service, the VA is struggling to meet the demand for psychiatric and psychological care that veterans need.
Post-Combat Needs Differ from Needs During Military Service
Military recruiters focus heavily on the benefits that the government provides to enlistees. Tuition assistance, free travel, healthcare, military discounts, VA loans, pension, and much more. In fact, the military provides essentially everything a recruit needs so that they can focus on performing duties for their country.
This system works well while service men and women are on active duty, but it doesn’t work quite as well once they are discharged and become civilians. After discharge, there are no more assignments, no more paychecks, no more free housing, and no routine. Shortly after transitioning home, many veterans enjoy the opportunity to reconnect with friends and family, and maybe party for a while. Then things get tough.
At some point, most realize that it’s time to buckle down as a civilian and go to school or get a job. Where the military formerly took care of every conceivable need they’ve had for many years running, veterans are now completely on their own to manage their healthcare, secure employment, buy food, make meals, do their laundry, and manage many other daily activities without a superior telling them when and how to do them. Transitioning into civilian life is tough for some veterans who are used to having many things done for them, causing them to lose their sense of purpose.
Many veterans, particularly combat veterans, return home with new physical and mental health challenges. Facing these health challenges is difficult for many veterans to accept, especially when they are trying to re-adapt to civilian life.
Physical and Mental Health Challenges Facing Veterans
Serving in the military is a life-changing experience for nearly every veteran. For many, it changes their life-view and puts all things in a different perspective. As recruits, they prepared physically and mentally for military service. Many of our veterans aren’t prepared well enough to contend with physical injuries and mental health disorders upon their return home.
Chronic pain is a problem for many veterans. Many of them take pain killers without being warned that certain types of pain medications are addictive. What starts as a prescribed medication regime can quickly turn into a full-blown addiction.
After every war, veterans returned home to find they started having trouble with their emotions. Clinicians and researchers have described it using different names and diagnoses over time. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the agreed term should be post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
PTSD is a brain disorder that sometimes occurs after someone witnesses a life-threatening traumatic event. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch sometimes trigger symptoms of PTSD, causing the person to temporarily re-live the event. Triggers cause some veterans to feel either numb or hyper-aroused, or cause them to want to avoid the feelings associated with the trigger.
Dealing with physical pain, mental health disorders, and addiction sometimes becomes overwhelming for veterans who were trained for years on how to be physically and mentally tough. In some cases, these feelings cause some veterans to feel worthless and suicidal. Hard-fought battles are soon forgotten, and there seems to be no help for the hidden battles being fought inside of the brain.
Marine veteran and author, Derek Porter, wrote about his struggle to adjust to civilian life in his book, Conquering Mental Fatigues.
Derek states, “I was not prepared for the struggles I encountered after my discharge. Suddenly, I had no place to live because I couldn’t live in military housing accommodations and I didn’t want to return to my parents’ home. My paychecks abruptly stopped. My comrades had become like family to me. Since they were all still enlisted, I didn’t get as much support from them. I was diagnosed with PTSD and hypervigilance disorder, which only made things worse.
Veterans need a clear plan as they transition out of the military. It’s imperative that we help our vets find a new support system upon discharge. We could be doing a much better job of helping veterans prepare for the life-changing challenges that come with transition.”
The Pew Research Center affirms Porter’s sentiments. A Pew study showed that 44% of veterans who returned home after 9/11 had a difficult time adjusting to civilian life.
Tips and Resources for Veterans
Many veterans find that it’s helpful to take a short break after discharge. A break in the routine allows time for short and long-range planning. It’s also a good time to start new routines. Physical exercise is a good way to stay in shape and hold onto some of the military training. Gyms that offer rigorous workouts similar to those in military training are a good bet.
Look for ways to connect with other veterans on a regular basis. The VA offers veteran support groups, and many communities have nonprofit organizations that offer support groups for veterans. Support groups can even just be informal gatherings like getting together on a regular basis for coffee.
The National Veteran’s Association lists numerous resources for veterans in crises, housing and homelessness, help with veteran benefits, and much more.
The War Writers’ Campaign is an example of an innovative approach to helping veterans manage their mental health symptoms. The philosophy of the War Writers’ Campaign is “the power of therapy through communication.” The organization, which was founded by veterans, assists veterans in telling and publishing their stories, and empowering them by creating awareness of veteran needs. This nonprofit organization donates 100% of the proceeds back into programs for veterans.
For veterans dealing with addictions or trauma, Deer Hollow Trauma Recovery Program is a program that can help first responders and veterans. The veterans can travel to our beautiful facility in Draper, Utah. Veterans and other responders travel nationwide to take advantage of this intensive trauma program with 35 hours of trauma-informed groups a week.
Veterans need help on the home-front and there are many programs available to help them. The best way to honor a veteran’s service is to support them and not forget them in their time of need.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Lamplugh is a fourth-generation firefighter and former captain with the Lower Chichester (PA) Fire Company. He was the Chief Marketing Officer of 360 Wellness Inc/Premier Wellness Solutions and currently managing business development with Institute for Responder Wellness and Deer Hollow Recovery.. Lamplugh is also nationally recognized in Crisis Stress Intervention through the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Lamplugh hosts his own talk show called “Firefighter Wellness Radio” with Fire Engineering. Mark also published his first book “Marketing Playbook for Social Media” to basically help companies and non profits learn how to spread their message on social media. He has helped thousands of firefighters, police officers, veterans, EMS personnel, and civilians nationwide find help for addiction, alcoholism, PTSD, and mental health support. Mark has been chosen as one of the Board of Directors at One World For Life (To head up Communication and the Health & Safety section). He can be reached for comment firstname.lastname@example.org