For many of the courageous men and woman who dedicate their lives to defending our country, the toughest challenge they face is often the transition back to every day life. This is reflected in their disproportionately high rates of suicide, approximately 50% higher than other civilians with similar demographic characteristics. (Department of Veterans Affairs) With statics reflecting the majority of suicides occurring within the first three years of leaving the military, it is hard to ignore the significant barriers facing veterans returning home.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is prevalent amongst veterans. The trauma associated with the experiences of war can often lead to deep emotional and mental scars. However this physiological pain is not just attributed to combat. Returning home many veterans experience a disconnection from society, accompanied by strong feelings of isolation. Western society lacks the sense of connection and close bond they shared with their fellow soldiers. This can often create a significant barrier in recovering from the devastating effects of war. Anxiety, panic attacks and depression are common side effects. PTSD has also been credited as contributing to other chronic illnesses including, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and dementia. Delayed onset illnesses also makes veterans more at risk to struggle with marital and relationship problems.
Another significant challenge facing many veterans today is a high rate of homelessness. In addition to the unfortunate circumstances that generally affect all types of homelessness, there are complex factors which contribute to an increased rate amongst veterans. Many of these can be attributed to mental dis-orders, including the lingering effects of PTSD, undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and hyperviligance. Left untreated these medical conditions have a detrimental impact upon memory loss, causing significant trouble in making decisions, aggression and depression. Compounded by increased social isolation and a lack of support networks, there is a high risk of substance abuse. Struggling to adjust with the physiological and physical scars of combat, drugs and alcohol are used to dull the memories of combat. The Veteran Association’s Inspector General said, “Presence of mental disorders (substance-related disorders and/or mental illness) is the strongest predictor of becoming homeless after discharge from active duty.”( Homeless Incidence and Risk Factors for Becoming Homeless in Veterans).
Access to legal aid can also become a significant barrier. Lacking an awareness of the benefits they are entitled to, the odds are significantly stacked against veterans as they attempt to reintegrate back into society. The military provides a pension and retiree benefits to veterans who serve a minimum of twenty years. This leaves a significant proportion not meeting the criteria, and consequently falling between the cracks. With many veterans discharged from service with undiagnosed conditions, they are unable to access disability compensation. Facing unemployment and with no financial assistance, homeless is often a cruel reality.
Another factor impacting upon the likelihood of homelessness is the lack of money management skills many veterans possess. While in the army, the military provided accommodation, and there was no need to buy food or cover utility bills. On returning home the responsibility to cover rent, buy food and other associated living expenses, can be over whelming. The inability to balance their budget can quickly result in growing debt, bringing with it another lay of stress and pressure.
Use to facing harsh conditions, returned veterans are more likely to not ask for help when needed. Severe paranoid thoughts attributed to health conditions, can prevent veterans from trusting anyone. This creates a significant barrier, while already struggling to adjust to a society where they often view themselves as outsiders.
Many veterans struggle to gain employment back in the civilian world. “Veteran unemployment is nearly twice the national average.” (Laura Burge – Care2 Causes) . Those veterans, who entered the armed forces at an early age, often possess little formal education outside of army life. This can leave them in a vulnerable position once discharged, with little preparation to take on the challenges of civilian life. Veteran’s skills are often difficult to transfer to a civilian environment. It is often not clear for employers to identify the specialist skills of trained army personnel, and therefore they struggle to realize their value in a civilian work place.
Some employers have pre-conceived stereo types about veteran’s ability to fit into the work place. Having been used to following orders, they assume it will be difficult for veterans to show initiative. They are often viewed as rigid, with a lack of flexibility. Added to this is the assumptions veterans are more likely to suffer some form of disability, including hidden or undisclosed ones.
The significant challenges faced by veterans today, can often result in an overwhelming feeling of been mis-understood and unappreciated once returning home. These compounding factors have the potential to domino into a dangerous downward spiral.
President Obama stated “Since I came into office … we have increased the VA (Veteran’s Association) budget by 85 percent” A 2011 initiative to help bring attention to veteran’s employment issues, resulted in the creation of the Joining Forces program. There was followed by the 2012 formation of Veteran’s Job Corp Initiative, helping with job preparation and access to higher educations.
While this is a significant step in the right direction, there is still much that needs to happen to ensure our country’s war heroes receive the support and assistance required to return to civilian life.
It is a voluntary decision to defend and protect the nation through service in the armed forces. This heroic sacrifice needs to be recognized appropriately, by supporting our veterans in making the transition back into society.
- Burge, Laura. “The Problems Facing America’s Veterans”. Care2 Causes. (11 January 2011)
- Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General – Homeless Incidence and Risk Factors for Becoming Homeless in Veterans. Report No. 11-03428-173 – VA Office of Inspector General Washington, DC 20420 (4 May 2012)
- Dickerson, Kelly. “Soilders returning home are faced with a heart breaking problem most people don’t understand”. Business Insider. (11 November 2015)
- Meshad, Shad. “Why are so many Veterans Homeless?” Brain line Military. (14 August 2013)
- Obama, Barack. (President of the United States 2009 – 2017) (28 September 2016 – CNN Townhall)
- Zarembo, Alan. “Detailed study confirms high suicide rates among recent veterans”. Los Angeles Times. 14 January 2015.