Sunday 12 January 2020

The Veteran Crisis

Since 2001 and the attacks on New York and Washington D.C. military personal have been in Afghanistan and since 2003 Iraq. Today there are still forces there. That means that since 2001 we have had troops returning from those wars zones. These men and they are overwhelmingly men, have returned to a veterans system that doesn't seem to work. What is failing them and what are the issues that they have to struggle with?

Lets start with some normally unrecognized things that create problems for veterans. The first is that military life is planned, what you are doing tomorrow, someone else has already decided that. The individual has little to no say over what they do from day to day. Sometimes that's not true, but normally it is. You also don't have much autonomy, the job you do you have been trained to do, in a specific way. Everything about your life is planned. Even many of your own time is planned by someone else, everyone goes for a beer, or to the gym, or whatever it is someone else has planned it. It is so pervasive that you don't even think about it.

As a civilian you need to make decisions all the time. In the military a large number of people can tell you what to do, but as a civilian that is rarely true. That means that life had a structure and now it does not. Instead of it being a solid it becomes a liquid. You also can lose a sense of purpose. In the military you have a purpose, if you don't do your job people could die. You serve something greater than yourself. But once you have left the military it can seem that no one has a purpose, that structure is gone. You need to find your own purpose, which is not easy at all.

Another factor is money, in the military you can be well paid. I know that in Australia it's probably the best paying job you can get in your late teens. You get used to that, you think that that amount of money is normal. Why wouldn't you? However not many jobs in the real world pay as well with no qualifications. For many leaving the military can see a drop in their standard of living. If your married or have children this can be quite a shock. For those who have to go on a pension it is a big drop. You have to change every expectation you had down and that is not an easy thing. It leads to depression and often people don't understand why, they understand that they have less money, but not necessarily that it can also affect how they feel about life. 

Then we have PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, this a medical condition were by people who have been in life threatening situations find it hard to cope with the aftermath. Normal stresses seem extreme, horrific moments are relived and life becomes an effort to survive having survived.

I think of this as a filing problem, think of this. Your mind is like a filing cabinet, every experience you have is filed away in the filing cabinet. However most of our experiences are perfectly mundane, things that we have experienced hundreds, if not thousands of times before. For example we get up in the morning, get dress and walk to the shops, very mundane. Each experience is filed into it's appropriate place. But what happens if you get up in the morning, get dress, walk to the shops and a meteorite hits the Earth and kills a group of people in front of your eyes. Your mind tries to file these things away in there appropriate place, but where is the appropriate place for a meteorite crashing to the Earth and killing people?

So instead of it being filed away it instead keeps repeating itself over and over again looking for a place to file it. Experiences need a place to reside in our mind, even bad experiences. When they are filed then they are contained. Many people find this too painful and they turn to drugs, legal and illegal and/or alcohol to help them cope. And while these things may be needed for a time. For the mind to get back under control it needs to be able to think and the purpose of drugs and alcohol is to stop the thinking process. To numb it into submission. However in reality that prolongs the agony, the mind needs to file this experience away it needs to get the experience under control. Until this happens the mind cannot heal.

Then we have something that is becoming a bigger problem for everyone, isolation. After WWII people liked to join everything. But from the 1960's onward's that has reversed. Today people don't like to join anything. They want everything to be informal, no commitments. However this means that you do not interact with people. Sure you might have 1000 friends on Facebook or on some other part of the internet. The internet tricks us, it makes strangers seem like they know us, like we know them, but thats not true. The reason we can talk so openly to people on the internet is because our relationship is in reality superficial. There is rarely any substance there. Only in real life can you gain that substance. Most people are lucky to have 5 people who they could call friend. And a friend is not someone you know, or even someone you call a friend. A friend is someone who you can turn up on their doorstep at 3am and they are glad that you turned to them for help.   

The best way to help yourself is by reengaging with other people and with organisations in real life. Find others who served and talk to them, do not try to pretend that that part of your life didn't happen. But also connect with people and activities that are not service related. Join a group or start a group, be active in your community. Do not isolate yourself and be of service to others, serve a cause greater than yourself.

A veteran might not be able to change the system but they can help themselves and the lives of others. I encourage you if you are a veteran to help.

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