Why the Issues Facing Veterans Matter. – Strong and Free
Countries love their Veterans. But the transition to regular life is hard.
Imagine having all 24 hours of your day planned ahead of time. Your activities, meals and even the time you go to sleep. And imagine you were situated in places that do not make it on postcards. Clearing mines, reconnecting electrical wires after conflicts have ended, undertaking search and rescue missions. What you see, hear and experience are so troubling that the news cycle purposely does not cover the stories because they are too harrowing. But you’re left with the sounds and images replaying in your mind.
Such an experience would require strong mental fortitude to continue.
Now imagine you are doing this regiment for years. And it suddenly comes to an end. You pack your bags and head home. You say goodbye to your friends and colleagues, with whom you have shared indelible experiences. To re-enter the ‘regular world’, get a 9–5 job and sit down at an office desk.
Quite the transition, huh?
This is exactly what Veterans around the world face as they attempt to re-enter the world. The adaptation to civilian life can be very troubling.
What sets veterans apart is that they not only deal with all of these same issues but they also struggle with their transition from military to civilian life. I talked about the military being a unique culture. Well, now the veteran is trying to adapt to a new civilian culture, feeling as though they have lost their identity and doing so without the social support network that was always so important.
And in this reality, it forces governments to ensure the levels of support be the absolute best it possibly can. Especially for those who have given the country such service.
In the United States, approximately 40,000 Veterans experience homelessness; in Canada, this number is approximately 2,500 (depending on what research you examine).But the numbers, while different show a striking correlation:
Most veterans that experience homelessness in both countries are over 50, single and male.
This is an important point. While homelessness is episodic in nature, finding stable employment can be most challenging at such an advanced age. Imagine re-entering the workforce over 50 with your prime working years behind you, and not enough in the bank account to be sustained for the rest of your life.
On average, veterans that are homeless go in and out of shelters for an average of 7 years, and rely on drugs and alcohol to help cope with the transition. Some even felt as if they were on Mars and now coming to Earth:
Getting out of the army […]I have to wear a common tie and jacket…[I] completely lost it. Something I just can’t fit into, I’m embarrassed. ….And I go for a drink to recover this…loss of self-esteem…you’re dirty and you’ve got no money…sometimes it’s another drink and you just keep continuing.
Adjusting to regular life can have its toll and the influence of drugs and alcoholism becomes more rampant. For participants who have been used to having 24 hours of their day controlled by someone else, the hours, minutes and seconds to yourself can seem like an eternity. While this is not to justify the use of substances, it is to help understand why these are being used.
Governments including Canada, have a host of programs available to Veterans to help with the transition to regular life. If Veterans have become physically disabled during service, Pensions are available or lump-sum disability payments.
As with any lump-sum payment, this can have a major effect on the recipient, which may not be positive. While the amount may be enough to purchase an entire home or start a business and help loved ones, the payment is to last the entirety of a person’s life. And after suffering physical disabilities, PTSD or other mental health issues, having a mid-six-figure deposit into your bank account can add to many of the issues faced transitioning back to regular life.
Incredibly, there are many Veterans networks and not-for-profit groups that exist to help with the transition to regular life. And this is good. This is where governments show their limitations and civil society flexes its muscle.
Governments do not have the answers to the multitude of issues faced by Veterans. Civil society can help.
What governments do have is money. Empower local organizations, homeless shelters. Fund former Veterans to become social workers for those coming back to regular life. Is this being done? I can only guess so. But it can always be better.
Governments should be obsessed with giving to those brave souls who have given the country so much of themselves. Leaders should put these issues at the forefront and commit to grants, opportunities and continued funding upon exit of services.
Veterans have given us so much. Let’s repay our debt tenfold.