President Barack Obama announced this past May that the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be reduced from 32,000 to 9,800 by the end of 2014. That means over 20,000 veterans will be returning to their homes and re-acclimating to civilian life in the coming months. But this transition can be a difficult process for some.
A 2011 Pew Social Trends survey found that 44 percent of U.S. service members who returned from deployment after 9/11 reported having a difficult time readjusting to civilian life. It can be challenging for returning combat veterans to reconnect emotionally and socially with family and friends after experiencing the ugly realities of war.
Fortunately there are social and economic opportunities, along with common everyday activities, that can ease the transition process and help build a strong support group.
Washington State’s total population is 9 percent veterans, more than the 7.7 percent average of all states, according to Governing. Unfortunately the unemployment rate for Washington veterans is nearly twice the rate of the general population. Endless free time and no job are an awful combination that will only exacerbate an already difficult situation for returning veterans.
Former Governor Christine Gregoire created a task force known as the Veterans Employee Resource Group (VERG) to address this issue before leaving office last year. The idea behind the initiative is to bring together representatives from every state agency to create jobs that veterans pre-qualify for based on their military training. Gregoire said the initiative would set an example private sector employers would eventually follow. Oregon’s Work Employment Tax Credit also seeks to encourage employers to hire veterans with tax incentives from $2,400 to $9,600 for every eligible service member hired.
Several private companies in the northwest have also enacted measures to help veterans find meaningful work. Microsoft’s Elevate American Veterans initiative invested $12 million for job training, placement, child care, and counseling services for returning veterans. Puget Sound Energy is listed on Military.com’s Top 35 Veteran-Friendly Employers. JP Morgan Chase, State Farm, Cintas, and several other companies formed the 100,000 Jobs Mission in 2011 and has since hired over 161,000 veterans.
The aforementioned Pew survey found that veterans who are actively involved with church and other religious activities have the easiest time transitioning back to civilian life by far. Keith Ethridge, director of the VA’s National Chaplain Center, told Christianity Today that it’s not enough for an institution of God to simply advertise itself as “military-friendly.” Ethridge has since held training sessions for clergy all across rural America so they can better understand the challenges veterans face upon returning from deployment.
The VA maintains a list of churches (organized by city, state, and denomination) that are led by chaplains who either have military experience or have gone through one of the training sessions. Veterans who don’t necessarily consider themselves religious can still attend churches as places of refuge in difficult times. Churches are also great places to meet new friends and share your experiences with people who care.
President Barack Obama spoke about the mental health challenges veterans face upon returning home from combat in his 2014 State of the Union address. Dr. Keith Tidball of Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources not only agreed with the president, but believes a study he’s been working on can help address this issue.
Dr. Tidball, who is also a veteran, said in a press release that the “Returning Warriors: Outdoor Recreation, Restoration, and Resilience” (REWORRR) study by Cornell demonstrates that outdoor activities provide numerous therapeutic benefits to returning veterans. He said the study has shown that connecting with the natural living world in turn helps combat veterans rebuild those intimate bonds with family and friends that have been damaged by their experiences overseas.
Fishing, hiking and hunting are the three most obvious activities. The Wounded Warriors Project has an office in Seattle. The nonprofit arranges two to three day outdoor sport excursions for small groups of veterans with similar experiences. Another idea is to treat yourself to a new pair of motorcycle riding boots and join a riding club. You’ll be able to soak up the outdoors while also meeting new people with a similar recreation interest as your own.
The transition from active duty back to civilian life is not easy even for the toughest minded of soldier. The kind of people you choose to work for and associate with will go a long way in determining how seamless your experience will be.