Jared Soares/PBS NewsHour

U.S. News


How Veterans are Being Supported after Service

There are few greater things an individual can do to serve America than volunteering for military service. Everybody roots for soldiers on the front line and for sailors and air force personnel in dangerous situations – we send them our support and hope that they come home safely. But what happens after they come back? Unfortunately, though some enjoy the glorious welcome they dreamed of and easily return to civilian life, others struggle. They may have to adjust to injuries or lasting disability; they may struggle with PTSD, addiction or other mental health problems; and they may struggle to find work. That is a time when they need our support more than ever. What’s out there for them?

Coping with injuries

Dealing with serious injury can be highly traumatic. Even where a full recovery is expected, it can mean being out of circulation for months, stuck in a hospital or in bed at home. Of course, Tricare is there to provide medical treatment and related practical assistance, but veterans still need support from their families and communities in order to rebuild their lives. That is especially so when they’re faced with a lasting disability. For people who have trained hard to reach their physical peak, it can be very difficult to feel useful and socially valued with a severely impaired body. That is where the Office of Veterans’ Affairs Sports Programs comes in particularly useful, helping injured vets to focus on what they can do and celebrate the ways in which their physical talents remain remarkable. Participating in these programs helps maintain good physical and mental health and makes it much easier for them to return to a civilian life with confidence.

Improving mental health

Around 10% of those who served in America’s recent wars are believed to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with a high rate of suicide especially during the first year of civilian life. Other mental health problems such as depression are also commonplace because of the effects of war itself. There are challenges when readjusting to civilian life, where different kinds of responsibilities are required with nobody present to give orders and provide direction.

It’s with this in mind that the government has recently arranged for veterans to be automatically enrolled in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Mental Health program when they leave the military, so that assessment occurs more quickly. Support is then available when it’s needed, rather than depending on applications and waiting lists which some of the most vulnerable struggle to cope with. Meanwhile, charities and community groups are working to provide additional support and to break down the stigma around mental illness so that more veterans feel able to speak up when they need help.

Securing employment

It’s partly because of the mental illness stigma that veterans have traditionally found it difficult to secure jobs. Others struggle because they simply can’t find anything that satisfies them after their experience on the battlefield. That is why it’s particularly important for employers to step up and help, which some are doing through the likes of the MiLBRAND Project, designed to support them in finding suitable roles for vets and providing the additional help they may need during the adjustment period. An increasing number of veterans are also finding that the police and other emergency services have a use for their talents, and still others are going into private security. Local, community-based vet centers are also doing their bit to match up willing employers with veterans who are eager to start contributing in civilian life.

Support at the top

All of this is much easier when there are politicians at the top who understand what it’s like to adjust after military service, and fortunately there are some of those in both major parties. Republican Senator Mark Green is a veteran of both the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, where he served as a surgeon and also worked in interrogation. Afterwards he went on to become CEO of Align MD and found the Two Rivers Medical Foundation, helping to provide healthcare to people in need around the world. Tammy Duckworth lost both of her legs and much of the use of her right arm in the Iraq war in which she served as a helicopter pilot, but didn’t let that stop her from running for Congress. Both benefited from the educational opportunities offered by the military and have pushed for more assistance to help veterans cross over into successful civilian careers.

Building up a life after military service is always going to present challenges, but with resources like Military OneSource, DoD/VA Outreach and DCoE Outreach there to provide assistance, veterans will not have to face these challenges alone. With the right support, a military career can be followed by success and happiness in civilian life.