From the Battlegrounds to the Home Grounds: 5 Common Struggles for Returning Veterans

By Alisa Hurtado

Most civilians will come in contact with a service member at some time in their life, be it a family member, a friend, a colleague, or through some other relationship. It is important for civilians to understand that coming home from a deployment holds a lot more than the joyful reunion with loved ones.

A national survey of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts demonstrates the profound and long-lasting effects of war on the 2.6 million men and women who have served. According to the poll, reintegration into civilian life post deployment can be extremely challenging—sometimes even more challenging than the deployment itself.

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Many civilians are not aware of the unique challenges that separating from active military service and returning to civilian life can present. Reintegration can lead to feelings of disconnection, isolation, and anger. Deployments are long and arduous. Multiple separations disrupt families and careers, and people left behind don’t always know how to care for someone who’s survived horror.

By better understanding common challenges faced during this post deployment period (a.k.a. reintegration phase), we can help make this military-to-civilian life transition easier for those returning home. Below is a list of five common difficulties faced by returning service members.

  1. Relating to people who do not know or understand what military personnel have experienced. This is especially problematic because most civilians don’t know that they don’t know! Many returning service members feel a lack of respect from civilians despite the significant personal sacrifice veterans made serving those civilians.
  2. Reconnecting with family and re-establishing a role in the family life. Life goes on when a service member is away. The service member will likely encounter unexpectedly difficulty fitting into updated home routines. While gone, spouses, children, or others in the home have taken on new responsibilities, and the service member may feel unneeded or in-the-way.
  3. Feeling separated from military culture. Service members may feel a sense of guilt for leaving behind other members still serving at the location of deployment. They may feel disconnected from friends made during deployment, friends that may have become as close as family. While living as a civilian, a service member may also feel a loss of status and miss the structure and camaraderie that was provided by the military.
  4. Entering or returning to the work force. A returning service member may have never searched, applied, or interviewed for a civilian job, especially if they began their career in the military. These are new skills they will have to learn and master. Also, given the lack of choices while receiving job placement in the military, the enormous amount of choices in the civilian world can be overwhelming for some. Service members must adjust to a different pace of life and work. In the military, service members do not leave until their assigned task is completed. In a private sector business, an employee might be expected to stop and go home at the end of their shift, whether the “mission” is complete or not. This may not be apparent to all veterans.
  5. The hassles and complexity of “normal” life. In the military many things, such as what food you will eat, clothing you will wear, and where you will live is all decided and provided for you, and often with very few choices. Upon returning to civilian life one must adjust to providing these basic necessities, with a vast array of choices, which can be overwhelming. The military also provides structure and has a clear chain of command. This does not naturally exist outside the military. A service member will have to create his or her own structure or adjust to living with more choice.
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If you know someone who is reintegrating to civilian life, don’t assume you know what service is like or that everything is perfect now that their home. Understand adjustment takes time. With patience and empathy you can help reintegration into the civilian community a smoother transition. Please visit the links below with resources for those close to a person experiencing military-to-civilian-life transition.

More information about the survey noted above – The survey was completed by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation using a nationally representative sample of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

They provide a summary of key finding based on their data, including a video, at the link below: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2014/03/29/a-legacy-of-pride-and-pain/

Research methodology and results are available at the link below: http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/national/after-the-wars-post-kaiser-survey-of-afghanistan-and-iraq-war-veterans-results-and-survey-methodology/901/

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