An anonymous military member who served as a Sergeant in the US Army related his experience once during combat, he reminisced the moment that a bomb hit not far from his location. He had to be taken to surgery and got a medical discharge. Over time, his physical health recovered. But without any mental help forthcoming, he gradually started to become detached from his family. Lights, sounds, and painful memories from the frontline kept him agitated. He felt as if he was losing control over his own body and senses, but he tried keeping the information to himself. His wife and children had to bear the emotional brunt of dealing with an emotionally distant husband and father. They had to push him to see a therapist before things spun out of control. Even though he kept denying that he needed help, his issues weren’t getting any better.
On the other hand, an unfortunate individual also had her face exposed to shrapnel and shell fragments. Facial wounds made simple tasks like eating and drinking difficult. Going through several rounds of reconstructive surgery triggered feelings of depression, anxiety, and identity crisis. Braving through the experience, eventually, she got into grad school. She was hopeful that her life was going to get better. But her coping mechanisms were not working well enough. She felt uncomfortable stares coming her way, stares a moment too long. The social support needed to readjust to civilian life was mostly absent.
Lastly, a valiant servant of the country undergone immense hardship and was wounded twice – the second time seriously – before being sent back to America. He served in a support role. The hyper-vigilant attitude needed in such situations had been taking a toll on his mental health. He felt relieved to be back on the American soil finally. But his happiness soon turned into confusion. From unspeakable horrors of the war, it turned to uncertainties of the way forward. The institutional response was one of indifference. The paperwork involved was immense, and getting adequate healthcare and disability benefits turned out to be a challenge. While searching for a job, he met with veiled discrimination and friends suggested upskilling. He was left questioning the value of his education and experience. While he understood that the world changed rapidly in this era, he was left to his own devices to figure out how he could find respectable employment. While he appreciates his countrymen’s gratitude, he wishes for robust actions to go along with the words.
We have some good news and some bad news for you.
Let’s get done with the bad news first. The statistics are unquestionably grim.
Veterans are 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the average American man who never served in the military. For female veterans, the risk factor is 2 to 4 times more, depending on the period under consideration. Chanin Nuntavong, national director of veterans’ affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion, points out dishearteningly, “We lost more than 60,000 veterans to suicide over 10 years.”
According to the March release by the Bureau of Labour Statistics, in August 2019, 4.7 million veterans, or 25 percent of the total, had a service-connected disability.
A look at the annual National Veteran Suicide Prevention Reports from 2005 to 2017 shows a steady increase in the percentage points over the years, almost a 50% increase in the decade-long period.
Though the 2019 report states a decrease in suicides, it comes with a change in methodology and a narrower definition of who qualifies as a veteran. And it doesn’t include suicides by on-duty veterans. The 2019 report pegs the number of veteran suicides at 17 per day, down from 20-odd suicides per day. But either of them is not a small figure by any account.
You possibly can find reflections of your own experience in the stories of Andy, Hazel, and Noah. Like them, you have served your country. You have fought for peace-keeping. You have made no small amount of sacrifices. Personal sacrifices that you probably didn’t sign up for. Now you are back, and maybe you are questioning the worth of it. You feel alone and somewhat unprepared to rebuild your life again.
The good news is you have a choice. You have a choice to reach out. You have a choice to ask for help. You have a choice to use the resources at your disposal.
Most veterans go through emotional upheavals and feelings of inability to deal with challenges while trying to adjust to ‘normal’ life. That doesn’t reflect any weakness of your character. Those feelings are valid and certainly not out-of-the-place.
There is no harm in acknowledging you belong to a high-risk group and seek the legal help you are owed.
You have a choice to try one more time.
Let’s see what choices your colleagues made and how the next chapter of their life has unfolded.
Finally relenting to the wishes of his family, our anonymous military member reached out for professional intervention. At this point, he got diagnosed with PTSD. He tried various therapies and finally started seeing some improvement after finding solace in expressing his inner trauma and vulnerabilities in art.
And our grad student took a semester break from grad school to get her emotions appropriately addressed in a safe place. With cognitive behavior therapy, she was able to make peace with her new face. Her battle scars became a proud part of her identity and remembrance of the years of service to her nation and people. She has resumed her courses and is on her way to graduate next year.
Finally, our valiant warrior asked for expert help to have a relook at his disability benefits. He got it revised to more equitable compensation. With a two-pronged counseling strategy, he realized the value he brought to the table was not limited to the degree he earned five years back. His resume needed to capture that fact better. He went through several mock interviews to understand how to make a better connection with his civilian interviewers and communicate his battlefield experiences comprehensibly to the general public. Career counseling helped him marry trendy, modern, of-the-moment courses to his existing skills to make him more employable.
Do you want to turn around your life, or join the ranks of anonymous statistics fading into oblivion? What is going to be your choice? What does the fighter in your heart say?