A person who has not experienced the violent and cruel world of combat has a hard time understanding what someone who has endured it goes through when they return to their home surroundings. Depending on their military duties, they have witnessed and participated in acts of violence and destruction that are not a normal part of a human being’s life and that quite often they are not allowed to discuss with anyone. They can never drive these scenes away in their mind and they become haunted by them.
This internalizes the grief and trauma of the event which can lead to certain types of destructive and even fatal behavior:
The most common affliction that military personnel suffers from when they return from war is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The symptoms that will be exhibited by anyone who has served in the military in a combat capacity can include any of the following: flashbacks, anxiety attacks, bursts of anger, erratic changes in mood, feelings of tremendous guilt, and unwarranted paranoia.
Up until PTSD was identified by name in 1979 by the Veteran’s Administration, many military people did not get the help they so desperately needed to help with this disorder. To make matters worse, many doctors did not know quite how to treat PTSD, so many veterans suffered for years on their own or with incorrect treatment which lead very often to suicide. Some veterans admitted to such an overwhelming amount of mental anguish over what they were ordered to do to the enemy, that they could not live with their actions.
Many veterans find that they have difficulty finding a job and earning a living wage when they return home. If their former jobs have not been saved for them by federal law and they are returning to the workforce after being in the military for a number of years, they may face not only social readjustments but a lack of skill set that they can use in a civilian position.
Many veterans can’t hold down jobs because of their erratic behavior or actions that are misinterpreted by supervisors and co-workers because they are learning to adjust to being back in civilian society. Answering to someone every day of your life for years and following their lead, and then being thrust back into an environment where every decision you make is solely your own is completely the other end of the spectrum when it comes to daily life and responsibilities. Couple this with a less than positive mental state and the result is a mountain of anxiety and stress to perform.
They also must deal with difficulty with focusing on tasks at hand, and even a loss of memory from combat area trauma. So, even if many can garner a skill set through VA programs and the GI Bill, they still have to face their own personal demons that often manifest themselves in outward behavior and leave them ostracized when they are on the job.
Chronic Physical Ailments
More than half of veterans that return from military combat have to deal with chronic pain all over their body including muscle pain. This is pain that is never alleviated and most live with on a 24/7 basis.
Besides the now-recognized effects of Agent Orange on military troops in Vietnam, there are other gases such as sarin and tabun; blistering chemicals like mustard gases, and respiratory agents like chlorine that many veterans have been unexpectedly exposed to while in a combat zone.
Exposure to these chemical weapons have varying degrees of effects on a human being but include convulsions, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory ailments, dry eyes or loss of sight, and memory loss to name a few.
Excessive Combat Zone Noise Levels
With the very least of the side effects of explosions being hearing loss, it still does not minimize the seriousness of how this type of affliction affects the mental and physical well-being of a veteran who is trying to re-establish himself successfully into civilian society. This happens with exposure to large weapon gunfire, aircraft, engine room noise, and close circumference to constant machinery vibration that to its extreme effect can cause back issues including numbness in the upper and lower extremities.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Worst of all, many veterans return having been a victim to severe injury around their head that resulted in a serious and life-altering brain injury which can lead to physical effects such as loss or diminished motor skills, skewed critical thinking skills, language impairment, complete long or short-term memory loss, and clinical depression.
Both PTSD and issues with social, physical, and career adjustments can all lead to a veteran searching for a way to cope with their overwhelming issues. This often means that they turn to alcohol or drugs to numb their emotions and soon become addicted. Then, the vicious cycle of trying to clean themselves up without success begins to occur until depression takes over their lives.
What Can You Do to Understand?
The military is soon recognizing that veterans cannot be sent home to a program that helps them to assimilate back into the civilian society that only lasts a mere three to four weeks. On the contrary, military leaders are coming to grips with the reality that actual long-term programs need to be implemented in conjunction with the Veterans Administration and each branch of service to coordinate a form of soldier “exit interviews” that will evaluate the mental, physical and personal well-being of each veteran before they land on their native shores, so that a customized wellness program can be implemented for as long as they need it.
This includes having medical professionals like psychologists on site in combat zones to help military personnel to deal with what they are experiencing right after it takes place and is a so to speak, fresh wound that a professional can begin to heal while it is still raw and before it begins to fester and create a full-blown metaphorical infection that a soldier may never recover from. This will also alleviate many of the coping stimulants that many combat soldiers turn to use while they are on duty like tobacco, caffeine, and in some cases, anti-depressants.
One program, in particular, that seems to be addressing the long-term struggles that military personnel face when they leave service is Navy Safe Harbor. This foundation for naval personnel and their families focuses on helping the veteran to heal their non-medical issues through a professional evaluation of their problems whether it is PTSD or symptoms caused by a traumatic brain injury. They then customize their care for as long as it is deemed necessary towards as full a recovery as the veteran can achieve.
Families of veterans are also involved in these types of programs because they are an integral part of the veterans’ lives as well as the veteran’s lifeline toward recovery. But sometimes, the stress of dealing with someone who is suffering mentally or physically can take a toll on family members. So, they need someone to talk to and guide them as well. That is one reason why the Veterans’ Crisis Line was created in 2005 in conjunction with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Veterans, as well as family members of veterans, can call into dedicated hotlines for each of them and talk to a trained professional about their needs and how and where to receive help.