Many veterans face problems upon return to civilian life after military service. Most extend military service at an early age before they had established their life skills and goals. Many had limited civilian employment experiences and limited world view.
They left behind family and friends who were their support net and those supporters moved on with their lives during the veteran’s active duty years. So, when the vet returns home things and people have changed.
In the military everything is spelled out for the young soldier. Upper ranks tell you what time to get up, what to wear that day, what activities will take place, when to eat, when to sleep, everything is regimented. Upon return to the civilian world very little is regimented, and all decisions and choices become you’re own. Many vets have a hard time adjusting to this lack of direction. They come expecting to start back where they left off, but friends have changed, people grew up, got married, moved away and other changes.
The vet is no longer the same either. He or she has experienced things, seen things, and matured into a different environment with different rules then what they entered active duty from years ago. There can be a confusing and startling reality and much different than their expectations. There is no longer the same circle of friends and support group. Many old friends have changed and do not offer the camaraderie that fellow soldiers provided when they were watching each other’s backs. The old group doesn’t understand what changes the veteran has gone through. For without experiencing military service it is hard to understand the difference between how a veteran sees the world versus a civilian.
Unemployment is a big issue for returning veterans as they most likely have little prior civilian employment. They have been out of the workforce for several years while on active duty and have not necessarily developed job hunting skills to find jobs.
Hopefully the military MOS will have civilian job cross reference to enable gainful employment. Most veterans leave the service with limited saved money so immediately are in financial crisis. Less and less veterans are taking advantage of their benefits such as education benefits. Homelessness is a major issue and about 30% of homeless are veterans, both male and female, which is a very high percentage.
As previously stated, the returning veteran may have limited financial resources and if not quickly employed may find themselves homeless. There are VA programs available, but any do not access these assets or even know they exist.
Drug and alcohol problems… there is much alcohol and drug use due to frustration of their life situation, emotional scarring, feeling of being alone and unable to cope with daily pressures, depression and anxiety over their life situation. This abuses their body and mind making them unhealthy physically and less able to make good decisions mentally. Drugs and alcohol use may also lead police, legal and incarceration issues that further complicate the future success of the veteran. He begins to view society and the world around as an enemy. Poor mental health issues. Unfortunately, the young soldiers are subjected to situations, sights, smells and visions that young people are less ready to cope with, thus leaving lifetime scars upon the mind. The result is PTSD, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, flashbacks, and a slew of other potential problems, some lifelong. Most people with a mental health problem deny it and few seek help thinking it shows weakness to ask for help. There are many programs available from VA as well as community based or private, however few are accessed by the veteran in need of the services. Unfortunately, without treatment or help most of these problems will escalate, and not go away on their own. Sadly suicide and depression rates remain high among members and former members of the armed forces. We lose too many to suicide today as the end result of military experiences, that the veteran cannot cope with on their own.
Physical injuries play a large part in the inability to transition back to civilian life. Injuries may prevent needed or desired employment opportunities. Chronic pain leaves a person in state of depression and hopelessness. The prescribing of pharmaceutical drugs may make the situation worse due to side effects and perhaps addiction to medications. Overall health is made to be worse by this approach and with declining health comes further frustration and disability. Obtaining the necessary medical help for the injury and disability may be become hard to access or too time consuming. Youth sometimes takes the view that they are immortal and can’t be hurt, then the real world offers a lesson in reality and its hard to swallow the truth.
Lack of education is a big issue since our society is becoming more complex each day especially in the job market. Even though there is GI benefits for veterans in higher education support many do not take advantage. Many of the civilians were going to college while the veteran served thus have a leg up on the workforce ladder and it takes time and effort to catch up. Many don’t see the need or may have mental or physical impediments that stop them from pursuing this area, many just give up.
Returning to suicide among our young veterans, I would like to offer my way of approaching the issue veteran to veteran. Over the years as a police officer I have observed how PTSD, alcohol, drug use and homelessness effects a person especially our young veterans who look at life differently then us old vets. their world is vastly different than ours was. I watched my boys and others growing up playing their Nintendo video games.
The world they live in is a visual world of electronic games, a fantasy world. Today in the game being played ‘Moki’ gets killed today he comes back to play again tomorrow. The same is not true in the real world of combat, in Iraq or Afghanistan for example. If ‘Moki’ gets blown up, shot or killed today he doesn’t come back to play tomorrow. Reality check that some find it hard to adjust to. During my observations I realized a picture is worth a thousand words, words that go in one ear and out the other if the veteran doesn’t want to hear them. So, I use a verbal picture they can relate to. .
When I talk with a vet contemplating suicide or harming themselves. I ask them to tell me what’s going wrong in their life., pointing out we share common ground as veterans, been there done that. Many hesitate but eventually open up.
After they tell me their story, I ask them if they believe in god and the bible, if they say yes I tell them, “done deal” they are in my belief a creation of god and that suicide is not a option.
Then I tell them lets sit down and find solutions for the situation. I use referrals and volunteers to help support ongoing help. If they say no, that they don’t believe, “look what God is doing to my life”. I say “Ok, that’s fine let’s make sure I got everything right about your problem, so I don’t make a mistake.” (this is where the picture comes into play)
They have told their story so to clarify I ask them “Then in your mind you have this big monkey on your back and he is destroying your life and your answer to the monkey is to kill yourself and get rid of the monkey right?” they say yes. Then I ask “Is that the end of the problem with the monkey?” They say yes. At that time, I tell them that they are wrong, the real problem just begins. You are correct, you are out of the picture, DEAD, but what you don’t see, I tell them is, the monkey is laughing his rear end off because the monkey has completed his mission – your dead- but now what you don’t see is the monkey cloning himself onto all your friends, people who you know, your mother, your father, family members who now have a little monkey on their shoulder they didn’t deserve or earn. For the rest of their life they are asking “what did I say, what could I have said, what did I do wrong, or what could I have done, WHY!”
Is it fair to be selfish and put your monkey on all their backs to make them perhaps suffer like you are suffering -or- could we find a better way to beat the monkey at his game!? It’s a long road but you were a soldier you know there is a firefight, a battle, and the war.
We are at the firefight stage but we can win the battle and the war, if you want to