In 1981, Eugene B. Sledge, United States Marine, WW2 veteran, author, and professor, published his memoir based on notes he kept in a pocket-sized Bible that never left his side during battles at the Pacific Theater. From the book, titled With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, comes a thought that many veterans are likely to identify with.
People back home will wonder why you can’t forget, wrote Sledge when speaking about his experiences, and these words remain true to this day. Military service has always been demanding, difficult, and dangerous to the point where it may be hard to comprehend to 94% of the current American population who have never served their country in this way. Every soldier was once a civilian, but after experiencing the hardships of combat as well as the rules and restrictions that are an inseparable part of being in the armed forces, transitioning out can be incredibly challenging.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the issues commonly faced by people trying to determine how to transition from military to civilian life.
Psychological Effects of Military Service
Even though not every soldier has a chance to experience active service during their time in the military, every veteran can be affected by it in different ways. Veterans often develop various mental health issues such as anxiety, PTSD, depression, or insomnia, which make it that much harder to make the smooth transition back to civilian life.
Some may also be dealing with a lack of the sense of camaraderie they used to feel while in the army or see little purpose in their lives after putting their uniforms away. Adjustment disorder is also common in military members who are trying to return to living everyday life and become part of their communities again.
Luckily, there are ways to combat these issues. Friends and family members of veterans returning home can educate themselves on the difficulties their loved ones may face during and long after the transition. It’s also important for the veterans to realize that they can reach out for help and shouldn’t be afraid to talk about their experiences in order to make it easier to get used to living outside of their military base again.
Change in Personal Finances
There is also a big financial transition that comes along with quitting the military. Active-duty soldiers usually have their food and housing expenses covered, which can account for a big chunk of someone’s monthly budget. In addition, soldiers receive health benefits and can save money through the Thrift Savings Plan – a retirement savings account with low fees and tax-deferred growth. Suddenly, once they’re out of the military, veterans have to start worrying about all of these things again and often have a hard time making ends meet.
According to Debt.org, veterans are more likely to experience credit issues, be late on their house payments, or deal with underwater mortgages. And while these problems certainly aren’t impossible to solve, finding the right solution might be harder due to a lack of steady employment in the first months or even years after ending the service.
Furthermore, veterans who joined the army right after high school may now lack the proper education required by many employers or find it hard to work in environments that drastically differ from the strong and hierarchical command and control structure they know from the military. On top of that, facing the less defined career progression path can also prove challenging to veterans who are used to a strict chain of command.
Lack of Understanding From Others
Other issues that veterans often deal with when transitioning out of the military are feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Each veteran has different and unique experiences, but many find themselves dealing with a common problem: civilians who don’t understand what life in the military is like and, as a result, can’t relate to their stories. This lack of understanding can lead to veterans feeling like they don’t belong in society or that people are judging them without knowing anything about their past.
Civilians often don’t think twice before asking questions such as “How does it feel to shoot at people?” or “Why don’t you tell us what you’ve seen in combat?” To most people, military service is something they’ve only seen in movies or read about in books. That’s why, during the transition period, veterans are likely to find it hard to relate to those who, sometimes unknowingly, repeat the common misconceptions about soldiers and veterans.
Having to Create a New Routine
While it’s true that not all of those who decide to join the military gets deployed to a combat zone, most veterans still get to experience the strict rules that soldiers live by and dedicate tremendous effort to serving their country. Whether a veteran has seen active combat or not, returning to civilian life and having to create a whole new daily routine for themselves, free of military rules and restrictions, can be incredibly tough.
People who get used to living according to the structure that the military provides can find it hard to suddenly be left to do whatever they please with their time. In such cases, some veterans find it helpful to have something to fall on, whether it’s their family, going back to school, or having a job they can go to straight after coming home.
Veterans often face many complex issues that make the process of transitioning from active service back to civilian life much more challenging. Their financial situation changes dramatically, and they may find it hard to secure a new job.
They also need to create a new routine for themselves once they’re free of the rules and restrictions they lived by while in the army. Some may be dealing with mental issues or struggle with feelings of loneliness and lack of understanding from society.
Everyone carries their own unique experiences that make it necessary to approach each person with the assurance that even though they’re not in the military anymore, they still belong somewhere. Understanding the challenges outlined above is one of the first steps to making the transition out of the army service easier for veterans.