The effects of war last far beyond deployment. The events that veterans encounter in the field shape their everyday lives outside of it. Issues like PTSD, depression, and lack of purpose are inevitable for veterans because of war; however, people are often oblivious to the difficulties veterans experience when returning to civilian life. This can be blamed, in part, due to the fact that we have been at war for sixteen years and we as civilians have become numb to it. This does not justify our lack of understanding. Regardless of how long we have been at war, it is crucial that we grasp the severity of the effects it has on veterans.
When veterans return home, they have the difficult task of transitioning from combat to civilian life. When deployed, soldiers are always on a mission, which makes the simple things encountered as civilians seem less significant. The change of pace is the first issue veterans experience when they get home and it has the biggest psychological impact. Afghanistan veteran Scotty Jones Jr. explained the issue, as he can relate to it first hand. “While in the battle zone you live at your work,” Jones Jr said. When you transition from around the clock intensity in war to the slow pace of everyday life, the change of pace can be difficult and can lead to the feeling of a lack of purpose. In the military, your mission is clear and the safety of your unit is paramount.
Jones Jr says, “You are training to go overseas, you have that camaraderie within your unit, it’s a great team environment, there’s a pride in what you are doing. Then you separate from that and you feel an emptiness. For me it’s not bad, very mild, but I know it is there. For some it is severe and leads to depression and even suicide.”
Although some people might see this change of pace as a relief, the removal of a clear and direct mission can be one of the main causes of depression among veterans.
Everyone’s experience in war is different and for that reason the impact it has on them is individualized. Brad Zivov, author of the journal, A Career Counseling Student’s Exploration of Military Veterans Issues, explains the reasons for the differences in the impact of war on veterans.
According to Zivov, there are three phases in the veteran’s life that separate them as individuals: First is “pathway to service”; understanding a person’s individuation and circumstances prior to enlistment provides insight into how this life event affects their experiences throughout the military and thereafter. Second, it is critical to understand the “personal experience” a soldier has in the military. Each individual has their own unique path throughout service. Soldiers have divergent experiences, influencing continuity in the military and their separation. Lastly, “reintegration” is a transition deeply affected by the previous two. The challenges that veterans and their families endure come full circle during this reestablishment back to civilian life. (Zivov 74)
Zivov is saying that the way veterans advance through these phases impacts their life beyond deployment. These phases shape how the veterans handle the transition back into civilian life.
The change of pace can influence the mental health of the veteran; however, that’s not the only thing that leads to mental issues. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is something that many veterans face, and it can affect their entire life. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published an article titled, “Critical Issues Facing Veterans and Military Families” that explains a few of the different impacts mental disorders like PTSD have.
These mental disorders lead to some staggering statistics. The article states that “veterans comprise 20 percent of national suicides, with approximately 22 veterans dying by suicide every day.” The emotional toll that war has on the veteran affects not only the individual, but also the people around them like the wives and husbands who are left to take care of the family and sometimes have to tell their children that their parent isn’t coming home.
What some people may not realize, is that war impacts the things veterans encounter on an everyday basis. Things as simple as driving may never be the same for them again. Everyday tasks they experience in civilian life may bring back memories from the war zone. Jones explained how someone he knew experienced PTSD while driving.
What the average person would recognize as merely a piece of trash on the road, a war veteran may see it differently. Jones says that for his friend, “if he ever heard a tire blow out or saw trash on the road he had flashbacks to hitting improvised explosive devices (IED), also known as roadside bombs.” This is only one example of the many difficulties veterans face, something that a normal civilian would never think twice about.
People have become numb to war. It may sound insensitive, but that is one of the by-products of a sixteen-year war. Jones says what he wishes people understand that “there is still a war going on and soldiers are still dying. Husbands, wives, sons, daughters, and parents are still getting letters and calls saying their loved one isn’t coming home.” We must be aware of the dangerous situations that the military puts themselves in every day for our protection, and realize that it is an ongoing battle they face. Even those soldiers who are fortunate enough to return home continue to face challenges because of the war.
The war that veterans live through lasts far beyond the length of any deployment. PTSD, depression, flashbacks, transition, et cetera, are just some of the many ways in which veterans are impacted beyond the stretch of the battle zone. War shapes the veterans’ everyday experiences for the rest of their lives. Many things will never be the same for them, and we need to understand this. Not only does war affect the individual, but all those around them. We need to be aware of the war that we are in, and the impact it has on those who have chosen to serve our country. By having a greater understanding of the issues our veterans face, we as a country can help better support and reintegrate veterans into a place of purpose in learning how to resume their lives.
by Hannah Sykes