Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) face multiple challenges upon returning home to civilian life. Mental health problems and behavioral/cognitive problems can make the already difficult transition home even more challenging.
All veterans experience the sometimes difficult transition back into life with family, friends, and their community. While serving overseas, a veteran needed to behave a certain way. Behaviors such as maintaining a constant state of alertness and withdrawing emotionally are needed in war, but can lead to problems when coming back to civilian life. Being constantly alert overseas may have been necessary to stay alive, but being constantly alert in civilian life might mean being jumpy or easily startled. It’s not uncommon for veterans returning home to have stress reactions such as sleeplessness, feelings of hopelessness, sadness, difficulty concentrating, problems with aggressive behavior, or substance abuse. However, if these reactions become more intense and more frequent, it might be an indicator of a bigger and more serious problem that requires professional treatment.
Mental Health Problems
Studies have shown that between approximately 37% and 50% of OEF and OIF veterans in the VA healthcare system have a mental health condition such as PTSD or depression. OEF and OIF veterans have been exposed to an especially high amount of combat situations. Combat stressors include things such as seeing dead bodies, being shot at, being attacked, being ambushed, receiving rocket or mortar fire, and knowing someone that was killed and/or seriously injured. Research has shown that veterans with more combat stressors had more mental health problems.
OEF and OIF veterans that suffer from PTSD typically experience the traditional signs and symptoms such as flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviors, hypervigilance, and isolation. In addition to these traditional symptoms, OEF and OIF veterans with PTSD tend to experience increased substance abuse, risk-taking behaviors, and physical symptoms such as headaches and sweating.
Studies have shown that certain factors make it more likely that an OEF or OIF service member will develop PTSD. Examples of these factors include:
- Long deployment time
- Severe combat exposure
- Severe physical injury
- Traumatic brain injury
- Not being married
- Family problems
Additionally, substance abuse often goes hand in hand with mental health diagnoses such as PTSD and depression. And, as mentioned above, OEF and OIF veterans tend to increase their alcohol or drug use upon returning home.
Another mental health related problem facing OEF and OIF veterans is the risk of suicide. Unfortunately, the rate of suicide has greatly increased in recent years, making it extremely important to get treatment. Many veterans with mental health problems are reluctant to seek treatment. Some reasons for this include:
- Concern about being seen as weak
- Concern about their privacy
- Lack of access to treatment (such as cost of treatment, or location of treatment)
- Concerns about the side effects from treatments/medications
- Belief that treatment won’t be effective
Risk factors for suicide among veterans include frequent deployments, going through traumatic events while deployed, and suffering a service-related injury while deployed. Depression, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury (TBI) also increase the risk of suicide. With all of these factors being especially common among OEF and OIF veterans, suicide is big and very real problem as well.
Behavioral & Cognitive Problems
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a common issue among OEF and OIF veterans. Symptoms related to TBI include emotional problems, vision problems, hearing and speech problems, dizziness, sleep disorders, and memory loss. TBI can lead to serious neurological/cognitive problems and is also one of the factors that makes PTSD so common among OEF and OIF veterans.
OEF and OIF veterans also tend to exhibit combative behaviors such as angry outbursts, threats of violence against others, and destruction of problem. Studies also show that OEF and OIF veterans are more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors such as driving under the influence. These behavior problems are often associated with violent combat exposure. Other behavioral problems common among OEF and OIF veterans include conflict in family and social relationships such as frequent arguments and trouble communicating effectively.
All of the issues discussed above also relate to one of the biggest challenges facing OEF and OIF veterans face upon returning home … finding a job. Reasons for this include:
- Veterans may find it difficult to explain to potential employers how their military skills would translate to the civilian workforce
- Veterans with physical and/or mental disabilities may no longer have the ability to meet the demands of employment, or they have a more difficult time finding a job that they would be able to perform satisfactorily.
- The need for learning job search skills such as building a resume, or interview tips.
The VA has resources available to help veterans looking for employment, and how those veterans can make the transition from a military job to a civilian job. Veterans that are no longer able to work because of service related disabilities can go here to learn more about what options are available for them.