By Allison Mewes
After more than eight years in Iraq, U.S. troops have finally come home; the Afghan war is winding down as well. We can all breathe a sigh of relief once the remainder of our US troops are home. We can finally close the book, move on and put these wars behind us, right? Wrong.
When our soldiers come home, they need our support more than ever.
During combat, soldiers are assigned battle buddies. They watch each other’s back, support one another and are trained to live or die for their comrade. When soldiers come home and integrate back into civilian life, their battle buddy isn’t always there to look out for them or notice changes in their behavior. Of course soldier’s friends and families look after them once they’re home, but as civilians, we don’t always know the warning signs to look for to ensure a healthy reintegration. Since we can’t possibly understand what soldiers in combat situations have been through, how do we successfully help them adjust to life back at home?
Soldiers not only need to adapt back to our civilized world, but they need to reintegrate with their spouses, children, friends and families after long stretches of time apart—Reserve and Guardsman also adjust back to their 8-5 day jobs. These changes don’t necessarily come easy after long, combat deployments. Soldiers may be safely at home, but what they saw, experienced and lived through stays in their hearts and minds forever.
You may want to help and wonder what you can do to assist returning soldiers? There are many things you can do to support a soldier upon their return.
1. Look for PTSD symptoms – It has been reported by PsychOrg.com that upwards of 18% of returning soldiers they tested met the criteria for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). One of the most important things you can do is keep an eye out for PTSD symptoms which typically surface three months to years after a traumatic experience. The most common symptoms are;
§ Flashbacks and upsetting dreams – relieving the experience
§ Hyperarousal – always keyed up and on alert for something bad to happen and increased irritability, anger or trouble sleeping.
§ Avoidance of friends and family and emotional numbness – showing a lack of interest in things enjoyed before the war, hopelessness and memory problems.
If you know someone suffering from PTSD, there are many available resources that can help. Learn more about PTSD symptoms and what to watch for so you can be prepared to take action if you see a soldier struggling with symptoms.
2. Employ a soldier – NBC Nightly News recently reported that upwards of 20% of veterans are unemployed. Think about how you or your business could employ a veteran. A few programs currently running are; Hire a Hero allows you to post a resume and view employers online, The Veterans Job Bank is for job seekers and employers alike, and grass roots efforts such as a farm in California called Archie’s Acres. The farm is owned by a veteran Marine and they hire returning vets while encouraging them to nurture rather than destroy by working on a farm.
3. Don’t encourage bad behaviors – If your loved one came home drinking much more than they did when they left, don’t encourage this behavior by pouring them another drink and cheering them on. Drugs and alcohol are an escape mechanism soldiers may use to help “forget” the war and could be another sign of PTSD. If you notice your friend or family member is drinking or using drugs more heavily, tell them you notice and encourage them to see a doctor or talk to someone. Left untreated, the behavior and consequences will worsen.
If you feel like your loved one is acting differently, his/her behaviors seem to be spiraling out of control and you’re not sure what to do, there are resources available. Ask a chaplain, veteran’s center, MFLC (Military Family Life Consultant) or counselor for help. If they don’t have a PTSD program, they can direct you to the appropriate resources.
They say it takes a village to raise child. Well, it also takes a community to look out for the soldiers who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms. It’s the least we can do in return for all they’ve done for us.
Allison Mewes is a proud Army Wife, and author of Intro to Army Life, a guidebook for spouses, significant others, and families entering the military lifestyle for the first time. To learn more about her work, please check out: www.facebook.com/IntroToArmyLife