Nathan Huret • Jun 24, 2020
Coming Home is Sometimes Harder Than Staying in Military Service for American Veterans
The road to home is long for veterans, who count the days to completing their military service when they can return to civilian life. But when the day comes, it is not always the joyful homecoming and freedom they anticipated after being discharged.
Today more than ever before, the obstacles that veterans face while they transition from active service to civilian life are being recognized. The Annual National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report for 2019 shares some tragic statistics. There has been an average of 6,000 veteran suicides annually since data was collected and reported annually in 2005.
What are some of the challenges that veterans face after they return home, and retire from military life? Why do a certain percentage of veterans struggle with drug addiction, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other obstacles to gainful employment?
Integrating Back Into Family Life and Routines
The first hurdle that many veterans face, is with a shift in the paradigm of personal identity. When you have been in the American military for years (possibly decades), the life of being in active service becomes your identity. The culture, the people, the training, routines, and responsibilities are everything that defines who you are as a military serviceman or servicewoman.
Everything about military life is unsurprisingly organized and regimented. There isn’t a lot of time or room for soldiers to make decisions other than what is for the common good or needs of their unit and the Country. There is a certain degree of co-dependence in that model. And life can seem a little easier (in spite of the hazards of the job) when you have a big military system laying out your time, your income, your advancement opportunities, providing your healthcare and much more.
So, imagine what happens when a veteran returns home. Suddenly, every aspect of the day is dictated by what the veteran wants to do. The autonomy is intimidating for many who are simply not used to it. The freedom of making more decisions on a daily basis and the accountability of those decisions (good or bad) is a heavyweight for some veterans. The military is responsible for you when you are on active duty. When you retire and are discharged from the U.S. military, you are responsible for yourself.
Integrating back into family life or starting a newly single life can be overwhelming. Civilian life requires more accountability, decision making, and personal choices. And veterans who have been used to military life can feel like it is all too overwhelming for them.
Looking for a New Job When There Is Only One Company on Your Resume
If you have ever worked with an American veteran, you know that they have impressive transferrable skills, working for the second-largest employer in the country. The U.S. Armed Forces in all divisions employ approximately 1.13 million people, slightly less than Walmart, who employs 1.5 million Americans.
When a veteran was trained in a technology or healthcare area, the segue into a new civilian career can be manageable, because there is a high demand for experienced professionals in both sectors. But what if you were a member of the infantry? What if your job was combat-focused? How do those transferrable skills relate to the kind of jobs where a veteran can earn a good income?
The first obstacle that military veterans face when job searching as a civilian are stigmas. While some people are inspired by the patriotism and bravery of our veterans, others may have a negative social opinion or perpetuate a stigma. For instance, it is well known that many American soldiers have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Would the level of anxiety and potential triggers make the soldier a risky hire for the business?
Each veteran has their own combat experience, training specialties and most importantly, the dream of being gainfully employed and starting a new chapter in life. Some veterans adjust quickly to the new life, while others may take a longer period of time before engaging again.
Veterans With War Injuries and Mental Health Needs
For all the rewards and benefits of a career in the military, the chance to travel the world, learn advanced technology and train for combat, it is not hard to understand why many veterans return home with significant physical disabilities or mental health conditions.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a diagnosis that impacts approximately 300,000 American veterans. According to The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBI) a TBI injury may be sustained by 12% to as many as 23% of deployed soldiers.
Veterans returning home with diagnosed TBI can experience painful and disruptive cognitive problems that can impede their ability to live independently or conduct activities of daily living. Some of the symptoms associated with traumatic brain injuries include:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Difficulty remembering information and learning new skills
- Chronic Headaches
- Blurred Vision
- Persistent ringing in the ears
- Trouble speaking coherently
When you have chronic health conditions that impact mobility, cognitive processing, learning and the ability to be functional and present, the job opportunities can be limited by physical capability. Lighter duties jobs (not including office work) come with a lower salary. Some veterans find themselves in minimum wage jobs in service roles, which have flexible hours and some onsite accommodations for workers with health impediments.
Working more advanced roles (depending on the health condition of the veteran) may be out of reach. Veterans in that kind of situation feel embarrassed. They feel frustrated about the difficulties they encounter making a living wage. And they rarely ask for help.
When we talk about the value of social programs for veterans, that help them make a successful transition to civilian life, it is while embracing the substantial obstacles that veterans face during that transition. That hesitancy to ask for help is ever-present in our knowledge that of the 630,000 homeless Americans in 2019, roughly 10% or 67,000 were veterans. And we are not okay with that.
Visit our resources page and learn how you can get involved, and help a North Carolina veteran access training, mentoring and support to help them successfully transition into a new, productive, and happy civilian life.
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