The United States has about 19 million military Veterans. While some transition back to civilian life without any issues, a staggering number of Veterans face considerable hurdles to reintegration.
These hurdles are as unique and individual as the Veterans themselves. Still, the statistics show that a significant portion of the U.S. military population struggles in major ways upon discharge from the armed forces. What are some of the critical difficulties that Veterans face when reintegrating back into civilian life?
Substance Use and Mental Health Issues
Veterans are more likely to report heavy drinking than their civilian counterparts, as well as use illicit substances (particularly opiates), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Substance abuse is often cited as a way for Veterans to self-medicate to cope with trauma and the difficulties of societal reintegration.
Mental health is also a pressing issue among the Veteran population, with Veterans accounting for over 20% of suicides in the United States. Anxiety, PTSD, depression, and other mental health disorders are experienced by Veterans in higher numbers than their civilian counterparts, and these numbers only increase when military personnel have experienced first-hand combat.
Anyone who has been in the armed forces will be aware of exactly how all-encompassing it is to be a military member. It isn’t just a job. It’s an entire way of life.
Upon discharge, this identity crisis can hit hard. The relative lack of structure and daily purpose can be a mental and emotional strain on Veterans—a strain that can take a long time to recover from. Many Veterans will maintain relationships with former brothers-in-arms, but there is insufficient support to help Veterans navigate this confusing and often alienating transition.
Military service is considered a legally protected class, and Veterans cannot be discriminated against for employment, but integration into the greater workforce is often a struggle for military Veterans. Many prospective employers have preconceived ideas about former military personnel and may make assumptions or hold biases that may prevent them from considering a Veteran for an open position.
It can be challenging for Veterans to translate their years of work experience into civilian, private-sector jobs. Many employers may not consider the professional military experience the same way they consider private-sector employment. This can often be a difficult and frustrating transition for Veterans who often spend many years in military life but who are now trying to pivot their skills to a different field or profession. Many Veterans will decide to return to school to seek higher education. This often comes at a high cost of time and finances (as the GI Bill doesn’t always cover all the educational and living expenses needed to obtain a four-year degree).
Access to Services
One of the most substantial problems Veterans face is the lack of access to services. While there are services in place for Veterans, like the Veterans Affairs (VA) and VA hospitals around the country aimed at supporting returning military personnel, these are often not enough to meet the needs of Veterans. This is evidenced by high rates of Veteran homelessness, suicide, addiction, job displacement, and more. These services are often inadequate to address the needs of America’s Veterans.
Why is this? Stigma, for starters. Many Veterans can feel like asking for help is a form of weakness, and a fear of judgment by their peers, families, or society at large can prevent them from seeking support. The military encourages values like duty, honor, and courage, but for many, this may translate to a sense of self-reliance that can make reaching out for help incredibly difficult.
In addition to the stigma, some Veterans are simply unaware of the services available to them, so they fail to reach out because they don’t know they can. But the reality for many Veterans services, including the VA, have huge backlogs and substandard care. This can often mean that when Veterans do reach out, they are put on long waitlists, which reinforces the idea that reaching out for help was a mistake in the first place. These various factors often culminate in discouragement and despair for Veterans who need support and struggle to find it.
There is Hope for Struggling Veterans
Thankfully, new organizations and services are popping up nationwide to bridge the gap between Veterans and lifesaving, life-changing supports. One such service, based out of San Diego, CA, has just opened: the Veterans Navigation Center. Learn more about how the Veterans Navigation Center can support you or a loved one find and navigate services for military Veterans at https://veteransnavigationcenter.org.
About the Author
Scott H. Silverman has a passion for supporting Veterans. This led him to develop the Veterans Navigation Center, an organization with a mission to support U.S. Veterans’ successful reintegration into society.