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What Is Life Like For Veterans Today?

Posted by rafael on January 28, 2013 in Lifestyle

Wars are traumatic events for societies in general, but they are particularly emotionally disturbing and distressing for direct participants, that is, the soldiers. Wars leave profound sequelae and marks that can have hardly predictable consequences on women and men that were involved in those events. Therefore, the reintegration of soldiers into society after a war requires considerable changes in their habits and attitudes, especially in the case of those resulting more exposed to psychological and physical consequences derived from such traumatic events.

What Is Life Like For Veterans Today?

What Is Life Like For Veterans Today?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

As reported by several specialized publications, people who have experienced a traumatic event (for example, a war, sexual abuse, a natural disaster, among others), frequently develop a specific clinical condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), comprising several disorders associated with a strong negative impact in almost every aspect of a person’s daily life.

According to several publications, PTSD began being systematically studied after the  Vietnam War, and was initially known as Post-Vietnam Syndrome, referring to the consequences the long term exposure of US soldiers to psychological stressors during that war. Since that moment, the PTSD concept occupied a significant espace in psychiatric theory and practice, due to the fact it introduced an etiological agent (the traumatic event) acting on the person from outside, against the traditional approach considering stress as something only transitory and inherent to people’s lifestyle. Furthermore, the traumatic event was considered as a catastrophic stressor, being beyond the range of ordinary human experience. As experts argue, the difference between people developing PTSD and those suffering just from transient stress, is that in the first case the whole individual’s  life is organized around the trauma; thus what governs the biological and psychological dimensions of the PTSD are the intrusive and persistent distressing memories, more than the experience by itself.

Post-War Support

As specialists explain, if war veterans do not count with the appropriate post–war emotional and counseling support, they can develop PTSD, which reflects in a maladaptive and pessimistic lifestyle, including less levels of extroversion and higher levels of neuroticism when compared with the general population. Furthermore, this translates into veterans’ emotional inability and instability to generate and maintain stable social relationships, poor ability to control their impulses and higher levels of free-floating anxiety. For instance, according to several sources, more than 50% of all Americans soldiers that took part in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq are facing now serious physical and mental problems that keep them disconnected from their civilian life.

The fact US was involved in these two wars caused that numerous soldiers were mobilized several times and were forced to live and operate under an almost constant threat of attack for a long period of time. This situation produced emotionally and psychologically affected victims in a bigger amount than it was expected. As several studies demonstrate, one in two US war veterans affirms he know a colleague who tried to commit suicide, while the vast majority suffer from serious relationship problems and uncontrolled outburst of anger and frustration. These two problems are considered as key indicators of PTSD.

Although the opinion of governmental agencies highlights the fact that war veterans returned to a country that warmly welcomed them and acknowledge their military service in these wars, war veterans consider that US government is not meeting their needs. While it is true that an important amount of veterans can now attend colleges, enjoy a full time employment or receive the medical care they need, there is also a significant quantity of veterans that feel they have been left on their own, and should fight for a job, subsides, physical and mental problems, among others.

According to several studies, war veterans feel quite frustrated with the services provided by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the US Department of Defense (the Pentagon), as well as other government agencies. Most part of veterans think these institutions are carrying out a weak – average job for meeting their needs and helping them in their transition to civilian life. Additionally, as they explain, receiving medical care support or financial compensation can take a long time. As reported by several sources, more than 600,000 veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq wars, who are facing partial or total disability due to psychological or physical injuries, need financial support for life by the Government. According to some experts, this number is expected to increase substantially, as new diagnoses would be completed.

For many US war veterans, their experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq were so intense, that one in every three daily thinks about their military service. Some of them, spent years fighting or performing other heavy activities (for example, filling craters caused by roadside bombs). This forced them to use heavy personal protective suits (weighting about 23 Kg) and returned home with serious problems in their spine (like fractured discs or vertebra) and PTSD. Nowadays, it is quite difficult for them to get a job due to these physical problems and should live from a social security check. As several of them express, they are so deeply affected by PTSD that use to avoid some streets and avenues reminding them similar places in Iraq or Afghanistan that were frequently attacked by rebels. Moreover, sometimes they panic when see garbage scattered on the streets, a situation that reminds them how the rebels used to hide explosives. Numerous war veterans should continually take antidepressants or tablets for pain; others have been forced to use a cane to walk for the rest of their life.

As experts put it, most part of war veterans do not feel well treated, since they consider that it was pretty easy to send them to a war, but now it is difficult to take care of all of them. According to their opinion, if the government sends them to a war, it should have the responsibility to take care of them when they return.

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How do you feel about military veterans? Why do you feel that way? To many people, our veterans are a breed of their own, a group of people who have made sacrifice and deserve our respect – but often, that respect is given mostly in the form of celebrations and kind words, and doesn’t reflect trying to get to know the individual men and women and what life is like after serving in the US armed forces.

Being a veteran is an identity you carry for life, and most are proud of their service. They wear military pinsand hats and easily befriend other veterans for the rest of their lives. But our veterans also face a range of challenges.

Two Million More

Over 2 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, meaning that there is an upsurge in the number of new veterans who either have returned or are about to return to civilian life. A few of these veterans will go into a career in armed forces, continuing to have the support and structure of military life for many years to come. But for most, returning home means looking for a job and trying to adjust to a very different life, a life as a regular citizen.

When people think of the challenges that veterans face, many think of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) or wartime injuries. These are both serious, life-changing conditions, but the truth is that the majority of veterans aren’t hampered by injuries – either physical or psychological – as much as they are by the culture shock and economic circumstances of transitioning to civilian life.

Veterans

Veterans

Many veterans have difficulty finding work. This is partly because the time they spent in the service does not translate to work experience in many public sector careers. The careers that are good matches often correspond to a veteran’s main job during armed service – such as mechanics and specialized technical jobs. These are competitive fields with few jobs in the current economy, and jumping to a more lucrative career is often difficult without going to college first.

Basic (Un)Training

Veterans also find a culture shock issue as they re-adjust. Without the structure of military life, many find it hard to be independent. Job placement programs and veteran benefit rallies, while extremely positive, often don’t address the more subtle shifts.

Some nonprofits are trying to, however. There’s an increasing awareness of the struggle that many veterans face, and even civilian boot camp that uses familiar military structure to help prepare veterans for the change to a new lifestyle.

So what can you do to support the veterans you know? A hug and a thank-you are always nice, but so is just talking to them. Get to know them, their life experiences, and why they’re so proud to wear those military pins. And reach out to them so they feel more welcome and included in your family, office or community.

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Samantha Wideman is part of a team of writers and specializes in writing about current news events.

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