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Monday, February 20, 2006

DefenseWatch: Post-Deployment Stressful for Many Veterans

Currently found online at, the following excerpts are taken from DefenseWatch, the official magazine for Soldiers For The Truth (SFTT).

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

In the interest of education, article quoted from extensively.

Soldiers who fought on the front lines during World War II often returned home by ship, giving them two weeks to decompress and reflect upon their combat experience before they returned to their family and friends. Thanks to the speed of modern air travel, today's combat veterans often don't have that time to readjust.

"Now, they are in a war zone one day and they are back here the next day," said, Carolee Nisbet, a public affairs specialist at Fort Dix, N.J., one of several military bases where National Guard and Reserve soldiers out-process after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"When you were in Baghdad you were going all the time, all day and half the night, the fatigue catches up with you. There are times when I've had problems concentrating, I'll have the 1000-mile stare," said Joseph Sharpe, a reservist who recently returned from a year-long deployment to Baghdad.

For soldiers who are injured in battle and sent home to recover, the need for emotional support is obvious. But tens of thousands of soldiers returning home appear physically the same as they did when they left, but emotionally are very different people. "I felt like I wasn't the same person I was when I left and I didn't like it," said Liz Kamps, a National Guard soldier, explaining why she sought counseling after returning from Iraq. ...

Of the service members Hoge identified as having a mental disorder, less than half sought help. Service members reported a fear of being stigmatized for being unable to deal with their problems on their own.

Carroll Williams, a Vietnam veteran who promotes veterans programs at the American Legion, urges soldiers returning from combat to get help. "I would tell them, if they have concerns, to share them with other people, talk about it, and if you find yourself falling by the wayside, seek professional help," said Williams.

Studies of Vietnam veterans, which were not conducted until 10 to 20 years after the war, reported 15 percent of male soldiers still had symptoms of PTSD years later and 30 percent reported having symptoms at some point after the war.

The lack of sleep, high levels of stress, long deployments, and 24-hour-a-day operations are very stressful on a soldier, even those not in regular firefights. The mental strain of living in a combat environment, referred to as combat stress, doesn't immediately subside when a soldier returns home. Instead, it is often compounded with the realization that an entire year has gone by and a lot has changed while the soldier was deployed.

"It has taken a while to re-adjust," said Sharpe, the returned reservist. "You're still thinking of the way things were when you left, and you come back and realize the people have moved on, you know, it's not the same. Sometimes, you wonder where your place is." ...

Active-duty soldiers returning from combat go through a seven-day re-integration program immediately after they arrive at their home station. During this period, soldiers work a half-day schedule where they can set up medical appointments, take care of finances, and receive training on dealing with the stresses they may be facing trying to adjust to life at home. This schedule also enables the commanders to observe their soldiers for three or four hours a day and identify soldiers who are having difficulty adjusting or who show signs of depression.

National Guard and Reservists receive the same classes, but because in many instances the demobilization stations are often not in their home state, a number of them are unable to go home at night and ease into family life.

Deployments are also very stressful on the families who've had to create a daily routine without their deployed soldier. During the deployment, a soldier's spouse takes on additional responsibilities in the home such as finances, household repairs, disciplining of children, and other day-to-day activities. Some spouses feel overwhelmed by the responsibility, causing anxiety, stress and occasionally, substance abuse. Others thrive on the additional responsibility and are not eager to relinquish it when the deployed soldier returns home, experts say.

Even though family members are excited to see their loved one home safe, reunions can often be awkward and tense as everyone adjusts to the changed family dynamics. Having the service member home 24 hours a day after being gone for 12 months can be extremely stressful even in the most loving families. That is why counselors say that having three or four hours apart at the outset helps with the adjustment period. Family members are also encouraged to attend classes offered by the unit's Family Support Groups to prepare them for the adjustments that will need to be made when the soldier returns home, Nisbet said.

National Guard and Reserve soldiers face one challenge their active-duty comrades usually avoid: When part-time soldiers do return home, they may have little interaction with other soldiers and sometimes feel like they are the only ones going through the emotional adjustments.

Single soldiers face an additional strain because they have no set support structure, said David Keith, the director of military service at Military OneSource, an independent agency contracted by the Department of Defense to provide counseling and other assistance to soldiers and their families. Single soldiers, especially those in the Guard or reserves, who may not return to civilian jobs right away, may have little social interaction with others, feeling that they no longer fit in.

"I felt a bit isolated, like the rest of the world around me went on with their lives the past year," said Kamps. "I felt like I was sent to another planet and lost a year of my life." Isolation, loneliness, and culture shock are common experiences for single soldiers after extended deployments. ...

The 24-hour news cycle can put an additional strain on soldiers and their families both during and after the deployment. Soldiers who want to move on are faced with images of Iraq and soldiers dying everyday on television.

"One of the biggest challenges is the fact that news coverage is live," said Keith, the One Source director. "Family members seeing events unfold are often worried that their loved one could be involved in the latest set of attacks. With instant e-mail and cell phones, soldiers and their families can be in constant communication, which can lead to additional stress and expectations, he added. ...

Most of the symptoms of combat stress that soldiers experience are emotional responses, but nearly everyone interviewed shared the same physical response to loud noises.

"We missed getting blown up a couple of times, so when I hear a loud noise I jump," said Sharpe, explaining that his compound in the Green Zone was bombed regularly. "We had one [mortar round] that landed right outside our area, the building shook and all the windows broke," he added, recounting his experience in Baghdad. Davis thought that he was doing okay until the Fourth of July. "I couldn't listen to the fireworks," Davis said. The repetitive explosions were overwhelming and Davis said he had to leave the festivities.

In Iraq, the explosions became so constant that many soldiers were eventually conditioned to ignore them unless they were extremely close. Kamps experienced explosions on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. "I became used to hearing the explosions to the point which it didn't bother me as much. However, I have had a great deal of trouble dealing with loud noises since returning."

Most soldiers with minor combat stress will feel more "normal" over time, experts say. But for soldiers and family members who need counseling, the Department of Defense has contracted with Military OneSource to provide counseling. Soldiers and family members can call a toll-free number and speak with a councilor, 24 hours a day, or schedule up to six free counseling sessions with a social worker in their community through the program. (The Military OneSource toll-free number is 1-800-342-9647 in the United States, and for international calls, toll-free at 1-800-3429-6477.)

The soldiers interviewed all expressed confidence that things would get easier but added they realize that their long deployments have had an impact on their mental health. "It interrupts your life," Davis said.

Read the entire article here.

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