I am a firm believer in assisting anyone who chooses to transition from a stressful or difficult situation to a more normal life. While any change can be extremely difficult, moving from patterned and predictable behavior and expectations to an “alien” world can create anger, anxiety and a flood of other destructive emotions.
For military, returning home can feel like entering an alien world.
Every time the local news spotlights troops returning home, I wonder about the problem of transition for those military members who are so warmly embraced by their families. The scenes may appear welcoming and joyful, but I am concerned about the emotions home-bound soldiers may be experiencing. Transitioning from military service to civilian and domestic life can be quite traumatic.
Typically, within 24 hours, soldiers return from the battlefield to engage into their homes and families. They are required automatically to switch from the intense dynamic of permanently turned-on hypervigilance to one of no hypervigilance. How overwhelming to expect smooth success with such an instant requirement to change!
A recent New York Times article by Brian Castner, describes a three-year-old transition program sponsored by the United States Air Force, located at the Deployment Transition Center at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
In this confidential program, veterans are able to talk about their recent tour and life stresses.
The format is informational and educational. It doesn’t feel like counseling or medical treatment. Mental health workers and chaplains are available, but the program is designed to be one in which veterans can live and work through their process in a structured environment uniquely designed for them by their peers. They can talk about whatever they need to talk about to peers who understand. The program is designed to help returning soldiers to find as many ways as they can to help themselves.
Eight percent of the transitioning veterans are complimentary about the program, but we know that a four-day program cannot resolve issues like PTSD that could show up later in life. However, research indicates that these soldiers have a statistically significant reduction in self-reported PTSD symptoms, alcohol abuse and personal problems. So, this type of effort gives us hope that we can make a dent in the myriad of problems that our veterans face in transition. And perhaps we can reduce those horrid suicide statistics.
The report by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America indicate that 45 percent of new veterans are diagnosed with preliminary PTSD. More transition programs are needed to allow our veterans the opportunity to transition effectively. Kudos to the Air Force for putting a solid peer-to-peer program in place. It is exactly what veterans need to process their stress, anxieties, and hypervigilance.
I am hopeful we can create more peer-to-peer educational programs for our veterans and their families.
If a four-day program can create better results for our veterans, imagine what a similar long-term program can do. This is something I really believe in, so we can truly honor our veterans and allow them to transition successfully back into their families and communities.