Combat Veterans and War

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When a man or woman returns home from serving in the Armed Forces family, friends, co-workers, and associates are overcome with joy. They open their arms with smiles, deep hugs, and sometimes parades in their city to show their appreciation for the veterans’ service. However, no one can understand what goes on in the mind of someone who has been to war in a foreign land except someone else who has been through it. This is where the problems begins.

The emotional and psychological process veterans go through to assimilate back into society is difficult for many reasons. They are asked by society to transition from a high-stress combat war zone to a quiet and peaceful home environment. That is difficult to do especially for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. People, even loved ones with good intentions, have absolutely no idea what that solider goes through when they are in a foreign land and they must constantly deal with the threat of death each and every day. In addition, soldiers are required to kill for a living. That is their job. They are exposed to terrible horrors and many times they see things and must do things that challenge their values, their morals, and their faith. This can cause many veterans to come home with guilt and shame.
Every Soldier Who Goes To War Comes Home Changed
The experiences combat veterans have will forever alter their lives and change how they view the world.
Here are some of the things combat veterans must deal with when they return home:
1) Anger and Trauma
Combat veterans who return home from war often experience post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of trauma. Part of PTSD is anger and veterans use it as a survival skill to cope with life’s stresses. However, that’s not a good thing when anger turns into rage, which results in a veteran getting into bar fights or slapping his wife around.
When soldiers come home and they have flashbacks, nightmares, sleep deprivation this is what psychologists say is a “connection to post-service anger and hostility.” In many cases, anger is the only way a combat vet can deal with the deep emotions of war.  Anger is used as a form of control and when a soldier comes home he is no longer in control. He lashes out because he feels powerlessness and alone at the same time.
Many veterans are angry because they feel guilty. They survived when so many of their friends didn’t. They experienced lost and they grieve. Soldiers must also come to terms with the fact that as must as they hated war they would go back in a heartbeat because that’s where they feel most comfortable, most alive.
2) Feeling Alienated
One of the reasons why the suicide rate is so high for veterans is the feeling of alienation. You have combat soldiers who are used to being wired for action and enormous amounts of adrenaline. That’s their life day in and day out for years. Once they’re no longer in the military they don’t know what to do with themselves when the adrenaline and being on edge all the time is no more. This is something so ingrained in them now that leading what society considers a normal life in the suburbs and working a 9 to 5 job is utterly mundane to them, which leads to depression.
Also, many veterans, who are combat soldiers, come back from war and they feel that no one understands them and what they have been through. They are expected to forget all that happened to them and just get on with life. In order to keep their anger in check, they will isolate themselves and live in the basement or the attic, or become homeless. They do this not to protect themselves but to protect their loved ones, friends, co-workers, and society. However, this alienation doesn’t go over well with family, especially a spouse and children.
Alienation means a veteran often pushes away the ones he doesn’t want to hurt, like his spouse. He still loves her, but things are different now. After being deployed numerous times and being away from home for a year or more, not only has he changed, but his wife has too. The veteran’s spouse may say, “Don’t you love me anymore? Why don’t you talk to me? “We haven’t had sex since you returned.” This emotional break is what causes many military marriages to dissolve.
“One of the problems is that if they’ve (veterans) been away from their families, especially if they’ve been away for a year, that’s a long time for a family. The children change immensely in the space of a year. So when they come back to their families, their families are going to be different. … They will have expectations about what their families are going to be like. Their families have expectations about what they’re going to be like. And the one thing that is absolutely true about all of those expectations is all of them are going to be wrong. They’re going to have to make some adjustments in order to match their expectations with the realities of the situation,” stated Thomas Burke, Director of Mental Health Policy, U.S. Dept. of Defense.
3) Loss of Family
The loss for combat soldiers isn’t their biological family, but their military family. When a military unit spends 24 hours a day, seven days a week together and they deal with some pretty intense experiences together, like road bombs, mortars exploding, surprise attacks, they become extremely close, like a family. The bond they create is actually tighter than their family because they understand each other and they’re dependent on each other. Their experiences together are unique to them, so they all can relate. These guys love each other and when one is hurt or killed it’s as if a family member has died. The bottom line – they eat, sleep, shit, laugh, cry, and kill together. You can’t get closer than that.
When combat veterans come home they are welcomed back into their biological family, but that’s often not comforting to them because their other family, the brotherhood, is now gone.
4) Emotionally Numb
A soldier who goes into the military and learns how to kill for a living is bound to change. In combat, the once joyful, funny guy or the sweet, sensitive guy has to learn how to shut off his emotions in order to do his job well. These emotions get in the way of survival and don’t serve him well. Therefore, those emotions must be shut down. Instead, they must transform into a ruthless, cold-hearted person, which can be profoundly jarring to families, spouses, children, and friends when a soldier comes home. This is not to say that soldiers will always be this way, but it will take time, and maybe therapy, for veterans to learn how to “feel” again.
Jonathan Shay, Psychiatrist and author, “Odysseus in America,” stated “There is one aspect of it [returning veterans from Iraq] that I think that [many] administrators may have trouble wrapping their minds around. And that is that the wave of veterans needing mental health services may not hit as soon as they think it’s going to hit, because veterans come home proud and they come home angry. So someone says to them, “How you doing? You need any help with what you did over there or saw over there?” the response is likely to be “Well, I’m fine, and what’s your problem?” Now that’s a proud response, but it’s kind of self-destructive.

How Can Soldiers Be Prepared To Return Home?
The U.S. military does have pre-deployment care for homecoming soldiers and their families to help them get ready to transform into civilian life. Many organizations cater to veterans and  provide mental health care, education, job training, etc.
Veterans and their loved ones, especially spouses, need to keep the lines of communication open. Family members need to be mindful that veterans need a strong support system in order to heal. Although redeployment will not be seamless, it can work.

**Note, it is acknowledged that women are also in combat areas during war. However, this article focuses on male soldiers because they are the ones usually doing the fighting.

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