The nation’s veterans face unimaginable struggles when deployed, but for many, even greater troubles await them when they come home and must reintegrate into civilian life.
November 11 is Veterans Day, a time to highlight the contributions of veterans, but also to raise awareness about the significant issues they face when trying to reintegrate into society.
What problems affect veterans?
Many veterans face physical problems resulting from combat injury. Some studies have estimated that up to 80% of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars experience chronic pain, but most studies estimate the prevalence at about 50%, according to research from the University of Michigan (UM).
Up to 75% of recent veterans face multiple deployments, increasing the risk for injury. Back pain is the most common, followed in order of prevalence rates by discomfort in the legs, arms, neck, and abdomen.
Veterans suffer from high rates of physical pain and emotional distress such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Chronic pain is invisible enough, but the mental and emotional scars that veterans face are even more covert. The stress of living in a combat situation followed by the stress of reintegrating into a society that doesn’t understand what it’s like to kill and destroy with the command to then forget leaves veterans at risk for depression and suicide.
The Veterans Administration (VA) estimates that between 18 and 22 veterans kill themselves each day. Up to 30% of veterans develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a risk factor for suicide and impairs a person’s ability to function in the world, the VA says.
One-third of returning veterans develop some kind of mental health or cognitive disorder, such as depression, PTSD, or traumatic brain injury, according to a RAND study. Veterans also face high rates of homelessness and unemployment.
Fortunately, awareness is growing about these issues and support services for veterans are becoming more widely available.
Resources available for veterans
If you’ve ever had a cat or dog, chances are you know firsthand the blessing of unconditional love and devotion they bestow. When you’re having a rough day, there’s nothing better than seeing the loving eyes of your pet, who seemingly would do anything in its power to make you feel better.
Pets for Patriots founders know the profound impact this relationship can have on people, and they’ve worked to help connect veterans with dogs and cats living in shelters who need homes.
Owning a pet can be expensive, but the organization partners with veterinarians to offer a lifetime discount on services to make health maintenance more affordable.
This organization serves returning veterans through multiple programs designed to heal the mind, rehabilitate the body, find jobs, and stay connected with other veterans. The organization’s vision is to help this generation’s wounded veterans become the nation’s most well adjusted in history.
Programs include the Combat Stress Recovery Program, which helps participants set new goals and acclimate to their new normal. The project’s Restore Warriors program is geared towards helping veterans identify PTSD symptoms and then connecting them with professional help.
Veterans also struggle with finding employment after returning from war. Through Warriors To Work, the organization offers help creating a winning resume, refining interview skills, and connecting with hiring managers.
Yoga and mindful breathing have been shown to help manage the symptoms of PTSD. Many non-profits have sprung up that seek to connect veterans to the practice of yoga.
Veterans Yoga Project offers a directory of classes taught by specially trained teachers, and runs retreats for those looking to take a breath of fresh air.
Returning soldiers unfortunately face high rates of homelessness, and Veterans Support Foundation seeks to help those who need it find shelter, whether temporarily or permanently.
The organization offers transitional housing shelters in numerous states. Each state’s program is slightly different. In Connecticut, for instance, VSF runs three transitional living shelters. While living in the homes, veterans receive treatment and help to get their lives back on track. Permanent housing in Connecticut is also available. Programs vary by state, and are not offered in all states.
Check the website’s directory to learn about programs available in your state.
By dialing 1-800-273-8255 and then pressing “1”, or texting 838255, veterans have immediate access to a crisis responder trained specifically to address veteran concerns. Callers are advised to press “1” to be connected to veteran-specific counselors. Otherwise, calls go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, where a trained responder will offer assistance. An online chat is also available.
By recognizing the warning signs of suicide and reaching out for help early, more veterans’ lives can be saved. Danger signals include feelings of hopelessness, extreme anxiety or mood swings, rage, and increasing abuse of alcohol or drugs. After calling, the responder will help the caller connect to local counseling services.
6. National Resource Service Directory
Finding the right resource can feel overwhelming. If you’re not sure where to start, visit this directory, run by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense.
The directory makes finding resources for your specific need easy. Drop-down menus connect users to organizations offering support for finding employment, connecting with health services or homeless assistance, and collecting benefits and compensation.
The directory includes both governmental and non-governmental resources that are filtered down to the county level. You can choose a category, select the state, and then view all the programs available exactly where you are.
7. USA Cares
If you need fast assistance, visit USA Cares, an organization that helps veterans with financial help and advocacy, with the motto “a hand up, not a hand out.” The staff pledges to respond to all requests within 48 hours.
Main areas of assistance include housing and employment. Services are offered free to service men and women, and no repayment is required. If, for example, a veteran needs help paying the mortgage, USA Cares will make a payment directly to the bank.
What resources would you find most helpful?
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