In our first conversation, Coming Home: Veterans Readjusting to Civilian Life, our contributors — including veterans, family members of veterans and members of organizations that support veterans — share their own stories, offer insights on the challenges facing returning veterans, and provide tips and resources on the kinds of support that families, friends and communities can offer veterans.
I thought it was time to make a short list of some of the lessons I've learned and some of the observations I've made within the posts I've written on this blog. These things stand out in my mind as having had continuing importance to me through my 40+ year "career" as a veteran. Also included are a list of outstanding advice from the rest of the blogging team here at Regarding War.
Drew Peneton provides sound observations and advice in his blog posts. He gives what I feel are excellent recommendations for the all-important readjustment job search, and getting your mind in order to meet that challenge. Employers have changed focus from the time I entered the job market as a new veteran in 1970, and although many of the rules are the same today, Drew places them in a contemporary framework of real practical value. I may have eons of experience, but today's veterans need to mesh with contemporary thinking so they can land the jobs that will eventually give _them_ the eons of experience they will need to become the new crop of dinosaurs who seem to know everything, just like the dinosaur writing this post!
- PTSD is real, and I would not wish it on anyone. It is the proverbial "monster" in the closet — under the bed, in the attic, and most of all, in your mind. If you're a veteran and your trusted close friends, family, or significant others make observations about your behavior, please do not react with anger and denial. You need to go and get it checked out. You will not be diminished in any way by doing this. It will show your strength of character to find out if you have a problem, and then address it if you do, and laugh if it is a false alarm. Most of all, you will not alienate the people you may need to help you down the road if PTSD does make its entrance into your world. If the condition shows its ugly face, and you work hard at controlling it, you may well find it possible to tell the world about your feelings and experiences without shame or guilt. You may be able to enlighten others, as I have tried to do here.
- A veteran needs to be his or her own medical advocate. You must keep in mind at all times that unlike a civilian medical practice, which courts patients for profit, the VA does not need to make a profit, or court you. You also receive your meds in a plain brown paper bag at the VA pharmacy instead of the nice looking white crinkly bags from the corner pharmacy. While all this seems kind of alien, you get used to it, and it works. You need to be aware of your medical treatment, participate in it, ask for a second opinion if things do not feel right, and use the patient advocate system if things go haywire. Always ask questions if you have them. It helps to learn as much as you can about your medical situation in order to become an informed medical consumer. VA healthcare professionals are in public health service. They are, in my experience, very dedicated, competent professionals. You can have down-to-earth conversations with them, make your points, come to resolution and move forward. If you are asked whether you would like some type of immunization or medical test, keep an open mind. There is good reason for these things being offered, and you could really benefit. Like anything else, the VA is not perfect, and there are flaws here and there. Fortunately, flaws in the VA medical system are becoming fewer in number. There has been much improvement over the past five years or so. Learn to work within the system, and things will move along.
- Veterans need to use the rights and freedoms for which they have fought. I get very discouraged when I see a veteran who has retreated into his or her mental bunker at the expense of their personal well-being. Too often, veterans can have problems that bring on inertia and avoidance. In those cases, the veteran needs to seek professional help to get the wheels turning again. In addition, there are benefits on the Federal, state and local levels that can be overlooked at times: these benefits include training, employment, tax relief, among other benefits. A visit to a vet center, service agent and the town clerk can usually help in finding these benefits. It is a good feeling to receive the benefits to which you are entitled. Legitimate veteran's benefits information is available at VA offices, VA medical facilities, and on ".gov" internet sites.
- Veterans need to readjust when returning to civilian life, but society needs to readjust in order to accept them. There is nothing worse than a one-way street. Where society stands on this has some historical issues, but few will disagree if I relate my observation that society has sometimes said: "Glad you are back, but now go away and do not bother us" or "These veterans are too expensive to fix." This kind of response never ceases to amaze me. We may — as a society — be closer to realizations and solutions about veterans, but only the passage of time will tell.
- Working veterans with employer issues need to secure professional legal advice for their problems. No one should jump into an employer-sponsored "Alternative Dispute Resolution" (ADR) without their own legal assistance and advice. ADR is one of those oddball things that sound too good to be true. In my experience, it is self-serving to the employer's interest. In the case of federal contractor employers, it can effectively conceal employer misconduct from public view and regulatory agency corrective actions. This is outrageous when the employer is spending public money to make a profit.
- Carla Lois and Estella Post, the fine ladies who post on this blog, have outstanding contributions. Please read their posts carefully. They offer unique and very helpful perspectives that are invaluable to any veteran's readjustment process. The veteran really needs to understand how he or she is viewed by significant people in their lives in order to become more sensitive to issues that are important to the close and caring people around them. Readjustment may not go as smoothly without this very important understanding.
- Disabled veterans are disabled people and veterans at the same time. While this may sound academic to some, it is an important distinction, and it's double edged sword of issues. On one hand, there is the person who must cope with and learn to handle a disability. There can be profound psychological impacts with any disability, and just the process of living can present real challenges. On the other hand, there is the person with veteran's issues and problems, aside from everything else. Please read Luis Carlos Montalván's postings and learn more. Luis writes about things that are at the heart of many disabled veterans' tribulations. If you are a disabled veteran trying to readjust, you may find some answers to your questions.
All veterans need to keep in mind that the VA system is not completely perfect. The VA system needs to acknowledge that veterans are not completely perfect, either. I know there is always stress on both sides, and complaints can fly both ways. Veteran's readjustment is the goal of it all, and we must all keep our eyes on the prize.