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Expectation(s) After Deployment & War

By Dr Mike Colson

The expectation that we have been radically and dramatically altered as a direct result of our military service. We first begin to see small changes in ourselves – or those we love – which can over time create larger and more complicated circumstances. For 45-50% of returning veterans there can be fairly significant behavioral changes that creep into the way we think, react, and live out the business of our lives. There are classic symptoms that include disordered sleep, failure to dream, weight gain or loss, dark or disturbing thoughts, inability to manage small tasks and issues, anger, and more often than not some over-drinking. Left unchecked these can fester and grow into serious concerns. One of the important things to understand about readjustment home is that our chemistry has been changed forcing us to be – as a result of training and experiences in theater – much more reaction than we ever remember being. Others can see these changes and describe it has having a short fuse, being depressed, or being anti-social. These observations can lead to even further misunderstanding when there appears to be – at least on the face of things – no good reason for the behaviors. In point of fact there are very important reasons for the changes. I often ask Iraq veterans if they would like to bring the war home? They always shout back, “no”. But war and deployment can and does follow us home. We need to EXPECT to be impacted negatively by war and deployment. If it doesn’t happen to you or the one you love…be thankful. If you are one of the 45-50% who are impacted with some readjustment concerns – even symptomatic post-traumatic stress – ask two questions.

Question 1: What has it cost you personally to serve your country? In my 1999 book, “The Paradox of Underachievement”, I was trying to figure out while doing a PhD at Walden University why it is that military personnel do not fulfill their pre-enlistment goals. The research led to a review of some 53 studies on military culture, life goals of enlistees, and how military benefits like the Montgomery GI Bill are used and with what result. What I found is that “Dissonance” – the disconnect between what military service members want out of the military and what they think they can get – creates a whole community of military volunteers who put their personal goals on the shelf in order to succeed – or survive – their military commitment. So, assessing the personal cost of service requires soldiers to figure out why they joined and what they hoped to achieve. Once that question is answered, the next step is seeing how much you have achieved and to decide if there is a shortfall. That shortfall, along with other trauma or tough experiences you had while serving in the global war on terrorism, is the personal cost of military service.

Question 2: Who can help me understand readjustment and help deal with these changes? Whether you are active duty, reserve, a National Guard member, spouse, child, or even parent of a GWOT veteran who has been potentially traumatized by war and deployment…there are many kinds of resources available to help with readjustment. Some of these are on the base, others with the Veteran’s Administration or Vet Center, and there are many dozens of providers in the local community where you live. Cost is always an important part of the equation, as is confidentiality. What is important to realize is that there are many providers and options and many of them are available by calling your state Department of Veteran’s Affairs (www.va.gov/statedva.htm) to find doctors and counselors in your area. Calling the Veteran’s Administration at 1-800-827-1000 will put you in contact with the local VA in your area. Mentioning PTSD or readjustment will get you connected to an agency that can help in most cases immediately.

IMPORTANT: It is important that a compentent and experienced clinician help veterans understand what is going on. This is not the time to guess at personal health and well-bing issues. Getting solid baseline medical information will radically improve quality of life. Start with getting a full physical which is provided at VA centers for returning GWOT vets via Deployment Clinics.