Veterans face a unique situation when they leave the military. For those that leave the service suffering from major physical and psychological conditions, reintegration into civilian life can be a difficult process. Upon discharge, the expectation is for Veterans to mentally and physically reintegrate back into civilian life. If the Veteran has difficulty and is not capable when he initially leaves military service, the VA will provide the required services to help the Veteran reach a level of self-sufficiency.
Veteran reintegration encompasses three major life areas:
- Mental and physical health;
- Family and friend relationships;
- Meaningful employment.
Upon re-entry back into civilian life some Veterans have recognized and covered major mental and physical health problems that prevent reintegration. These Veterans may also require outpatient mental and physical therapy that can interfere with successful integration back into civilian life. The Veteran must have the confidence and determination to make this a successful process.
The Veteran’s ability to maintain positive social family and friend relationships demonstrates his or her control of emotions. A Veteran, similar to many people, desire to be amicable and maintain close relationships where he or she is able to give and receive love. During a combat situation military personnel often learn to restrict their emotions. Restriction of their emotions is a coping mechanism to deal with the horrific events that have been witnessed in combat. These emotions numb what is felt and how emotions are shown. This learned behavior of emotional restriction is not easily discarded when the Veteran returns to a safe environment. It takes time, understanding, and, in many cases, professional counseling to overcome this coping skill and once again become open and accepting of relationships with family and friends. Embedded in the Veteran’s ability to maintain relationships is his or her ability to control emotions, avoid outbursts, and remain civil with others. Even though this seems elementary to those in the civilian community and constitutes acceptable citizen conduct, the Veteran may have been through a traumatic experience that challenged his or her emotional stability, making the return to a previous level of expression difficult.
Upon return to the civilian community, meaningful employment is required so the Veteran feels good about himself or herself and reintegrates. Our society values a citizen’s ability to maintain employment and provide for the family. Often, employment defines who a person is and how others perceive them. There are theorists who have written about the positive psychological effects of meaningful employment. The Veteran has left a profession that clearly defines the steps to success while actively encouraging its members to seek additional responsibilities and advancement.
The civilian environment is not as transparent. It isn’t that a civilian organization cannot have the team atmosphere; it just doesn’t seem to be as prevalent or apparent as it is in the military. It is also incumbent on the Veteran to prepare himself or herself for transition. He or she may need to attend school or participate in an on-the-job training program. Even when the Veteran performed a skill in the military that is transferable to civilian life, he or she may need accreditations that can only be achieved with additional classroom time or apprenticeship programs.
The best advice that we can give is to be patient and give the Veteran time. The reintegration process is unique to each Veteran, so be supportive and realize there is no one way that all progress. There is no set timeframe and the challenges vary greatly among Veterans. Many Veterans have found veteran group counseling beneficial. Veteran Centers are being started in a number of communities. A Veteran who requires assistance should contact his local veteran service officer or the local chapter of the VFW. The Veteran Service Officer is generally located at city or county government offices.
Resources and Further Reading
Veteran Service Officers can be found using the website: http://nvf.org/veteran-service-officers/
Veteran Affairs website: http://www.va.gov/landing2_vetsrv.htm
Written by Gary Grimes, Colonel Retired, U.S. Army and Sophia F. Dziegielewski, Ph.D., LCSW