There have been numerous wars and military conflicts across the years that have drawn our troops away from their families and homes. Often deployed multiple times within their career, these brave soldiers are called to serve in some of the most hostile environments imaginable and then somehow expected to transition from active duty to civilian life with ease – a very tall order, considering the extreme circumstances of combat.
Unfortunately, despite the promise of glory and sufficient health benefits and security for their families, once they arrive home, the life of the average American soldier is anything but secure. A soldier will be the first to say there are many things to be thankful for, but there are also many difficulties faced by veterans working to adjust to civilian life.
Adjusting to Civilian Life Is an Everyday Battle
Sadly, veterans that return home from war are on the underdog’s side of statistics. In total, there are over 2.3 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and according to costsofwar.org, almost 700,000 of them currently have some degree of an officially recognized disability as a result of these wars – and this figure doesn’t even consider “Vietnam Era” veterans that are reportedly worse off.
While post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD (to be discussed in more detail below), is likely the largest contributor to the disabilities experienced by veterans, there are a number of other habitual issues that plague an American soldier’s assimilation into society in their day-to-day lives.
Many veterans transitioning from a military mentality to a civilian one can:
- Feel isolated and alone, like no one understands them
- Feel alienated due to a distinct lack of structure and goals that they were accustomed to in their military life
- Become increasingly irritated by others that seem more laid-back or less detail-oriented than they’re use to
- Miss the physical rush of life-threatening situations
- Worry about their finances
Further, to review some alarming numbers, a recent sample of 600 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan found that 39% of vets abuse alcohol, 3% abuse drugs (many of which are military prescriptions) and depression was rampant across the board. As an assumptive result, alcohol use associated with physical domestic violence in Army families increased by 54%, child abuse by 40%, and veteran suicide rates are thought to be as high as 5,000 per year, even though one-third of these suicides are by veterans that were never deployed to war zones.
Whether it’s marginal issues in the more mundane tasks of the day-to-day or larger, darker demons, each veteran experiences their own battle of adjustment back into society.
The War on PTSD
As referenced above, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is likely one of the leading deterrents from a vet’s smooth transition back into civilian life. PTSD, also known as shell shock or combat stress, is a disorder that stems from a severe, traumatic event (such as combat) and can later reveal itself under a number of problematic symptoms:
- Recurring memories of the event(s)
- Anxiety in crowds and high action settings
- Apathy/loss of interest/feeling numb
- Feeling emotionally removed from others
- Anger and irritability
Of course, there are varying degrees of these symptoms, but the disability can be devastating and affects many veterans. The US Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD estimates that about 7% of civilians will have PTSD at some point in their lives, however, as much as 20% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and upwards of 30% of Vietnam veterans have fallen victim to the disorder.
When paired with the fact that 19% of veterans may have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while in action, carrying with it its own set of limiting symptoms, these numbers paint a potent recipe of the difficulty of adapting to life after combat.
Veteran Benefits Can Help Ease the Transition
With all of these documented disorders in the wake of military service, life after duty is heavily reliant on a robust benefits package. Veterans may be eligible for an array of benefits, depending on their past military service.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a variety of programs that offer medical, financial, and other vital assistance for veterans. For military veterans who have received an honorable or general discharge, there are four primary benefit programs that vets working to adjust can pull support from:
- Disability Compensation – Veterans who have suffered a service-related disability, injury, or disease can qualify for up to $3,100 in monthly, tax-free compensation benefits.
- Pension Programs – Wartime veterans who are no longer able to work, have disabilities, and/or have a limited income may qualify for Veterans Pension. Veterans 65 or older may also qualify.
- Medical Care – The Department of Veterans Affairs is required by law to provide medical services that, by definition, will promote, preserve, and restore health. This give eligible veterans access to VA hospitals for treatment of injury, illness, rehabilitation, alcohol/drug dependence, etc.
- Educational Programs – Under the GI Bill, a variety of educational programs have been established to help cover the costs associated with further schooling and/or training.
Aside from these four core benefit programs, there are a number of other benefits that each aim to set veterans up for success:
- Subsidized housing and home loan guarantees
- Job training and placement
- Small business loans through the Small Business Administration
- Counseling and PTSD Support
- Burials and memorials
- Franchise opportunities (Vet Fran)
Even with these favorable benefits, according to a recent RAND study, it’s worth noting that only 50% of those with PTSD actually sought treatment, and out of the half that actually pursued treatment, only half of those received “minimally adequate” treatment. However, utilizing their benefits can help veterans working to integrate into civilian life.
Veteran Unemployment Rates & Trends
In 2013, the overall unemployment rate in the United States averaged 7.4%, but finished at 6.7% by December. While this was a historically favorable rate for the civilian population, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, during that same period, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty at any time since September 2001 was 9% – more than 2% higher than the civilian population!
Although this disparity is alarming, that’s not to say that veterans are hopeless when it comes to finding employment upon their homecoming.
On the contrary, the military has a number of job placement programs in place and teaches a variety of skills that translate wonderfully into the modern workforce. According to a study performed by PayScale.com, the following is a list of the top skills taught to military members and the 15 most common jobs landed as a result.
Top Skills Taught to Military Servicemembers:
- Emergency room preparedness
- Computer security
- Microsoft SQL server
- Electronic troubleshooting
- Security risk management
- Security policies and procedures
- Cisco networking
- Contractor management
- Program management
Top Jobs Landed As a Result:
- Management consultant
- Program manager, IT
- Systems analyst
- FBI agent
- Field service engineer, medical equipment
- Systems engineer, computer networking, IT
- Information technology (IT) consultant
- Intelligence analyst
- Helicopter pilot
- Network engineer, IT
- Project manager, construction
- Technical writer
- Business development manager
- Network administrator, IT
- HVAC service technician
As you can see, the military clearly imparts valuable leadership skills and timely technological talents. With this potent toolbox of applicable skills and knowledge, veterans are comfortably able to find jobs after returning home from service, despite the troubled economy and the competitive landscape of the modern workforce.
Additionally, veterans receive preferential treatment for government jobs and have an array of employment assistance services at their disposal.
Veterans Adjusting to Family Life
While most soldiers spend the majority of their deployment dreaming of the day they can be reunited with their families, the transition back to home life can be turbulent.
In fact, the longer the time the veteran has spent away and the more frequent their stints in active warfare, the more difficult it gets to adjust into a crowded house.
As referenced in the first section, even though the soldier may be surrounded by the people they love most, there are some inherent hurdles to navigate when it comes to coming home.
Be it isolationism, anxiety, irritability, a short temper, or general disinterest, it’s important that the family fully understands the plight of the displaced soldier and that they realize it’s nothing personal – it’s a phase that requires communal compassion, work, and patience as the veteran works to reintegrate into what may have become a foreign lifestyle.
The Bottom Line
As much as a veteran looks forward to their homecoming, often the “return to normal” is anything but “normal.” Rather, it’s a sudden jolt that can cause a soldier to feel lost in a familiar setting.
However, there are many programs and resources available to help ease the transition so that the American soldier may know they are not forgotten.
The Low VA Rates Family
Low VA Rates is a company that focuses on helping veterans access homeownership benefits. We know that one goal commonly held by veterans returning from duty is to buy a home, so we offer low rates and great terms to help them on that journey. If you have any questions about getting into a home, please feel free to contact us.
We are also involved in the military conversation and work to help veterans in other aspects of life as well. Check out our blog for more articles like this one.