Military to Mainstream: Why Our Veterans Need Our Support Year-Round

Military to Mainstream: Why Our Veterans Need Our Support Year-Round

Veteran’s Day. It’s that time of year when the nation turns its attention to the service and sacrifice of veterans of wars past and current, even if only for a moment, just long enough for that photo op. But what of the rest of the year–all the days beyond November 11th and the days leading up to–when thousands return stateside from one or more deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan to find themselves in a daily struggle to readjust to civilian life? Their challenges include post-traumatic stress disorder, unemployment, broken families and homelessness.

They are what Verna Jones, director of the American Legion‘s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation division, calls “the invisible wounds of war.” Many returning veterans, Jones explained, don’t even understand why they’re having abnormal feelings and reactions to normal situations, while others try to push those feelings aside.

“It sometimes takes a long time for vets to realize they have PSTD or to even realize they need to go to a doctor to seek help for the stress they’re feeling,” says Jones. “Sometimes they’re in denial; they think it couldn’t happen to them because they’re stronger than that.” This sort of attitude is exacerbated by the fact that veterans are not encouraged to seek help for fear of being stigmatized by the military, which received frequent criticism for not providing adequate mental health services. Veterans suffering alone may also succumb to drug or alcohol dependence, and they risk losing everything. Mark Walker, who is deputy director of the economic division, says that some vets end up homeless because they were victimized predatory mortgage lenders. Others find they can no longer afford their mortgage because they’re earnings are significantly lower than they were before deployment.

“The economy’s bad and there’s [scarce] affordable housing and support services,” said Walker. “So many of the folks now are younger. They don’t have a resume and often don’t know how to apply what they did in the military to a civilian job. When you connect all those dots and they don’t have the support systems, they can easily find themselves on the street.”

Family and friends of service people also have their share of challenges, often finding it difficult to adjust and relate to a soldier who has returned home. “There’s no way to go into combat, see the things you see and do the things you do, and come back normal,” said Iraq war veteran Joe Sharpe, who heads the legion’s economic division. “It’s going to take a while for you to get back into a regular routine; but a lot of friends and family members expect you to start where you left off and don’t understand why you’re seeing things differently or not fitting in as you did before.”

Another hurdle for our veterans? Reentering the workforce. Veterans often find themselves less competitive than they were before deployment because they’ve been unable to keep up with the new skills or technological or other advances that may have taken place in their field. They feel as though the world has moved on without them, says Sharpe, and the current economic downturn has only made matters worse.

The mission of Sharpe’s division is to help vets find employment opportunities. It works with veteran assistance programs around the nation and hosts job fairs nationwide in partnership with the Department of Labor. The division also conducts small business development workshops for veterans who want to become entrepreneurs and teaches them how to navigate the federal marketplace.

Like the American Legion, there are sources available to help you or the people you love if you are in the military, making your way back into the mainstream, or already home. This week, in honor of Veteran’s Day, features content that not only celebrates our military, but supports you by giving you resources you can use to forge ahead. Be sure to check back each day!

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