War is hell. There is no way a family member can comprehend what their loved one has gone through while serving in the military. Their delight at learning their spouse, son or daughter is returning home likely won’t be dampened by thoughts of how changed he or she will be, but the reality is, it won’t be the same person that left. Experiencing a different land and culture changes a person, and living through a “life or death” ordeal is bound to change anybody.
Upon return from overseas, veterans will likely have difficulty switching from a military mindset back to the civilians they once were. According to “War Zone Experiences Reported by Members of the U.S. Military in Iraq,” 60% of service members have been attacked or ambushed, 86% were on the receiving end of incoming fire, 50% were shot at, 36% discharged their weapon, 63% saw dead bodies or remains, and 79% knew someone who was seriously injured or killed.
So, what should the family expect? Well, according to “Returning from the War Zone: A Guide for Families of Military Members,” by the Department of Veterans Affairs, some of the most common physical reactions include:
• Sleep difficulties
• Upset stomach and/or difficulty eating
• Headaches and sweating when thinking of the war
• Rapid heartbeat or breathing
• Existing health problems become worse
• Flashbacks or unwanted memories
• Feeling nervous, helpless or fearful
• Feeling guilty, self-blame, shame
• Feeling sad, rejected, or abandoned
• Agitated, easily upset, irritated, or annoyed
• Feeling hopeless about the future
• Experiencing shock, being numb, unable to feel happy
Think about the difference between what the family is expecting in this reunion and what they actually may encounter. Perhaps it will be easier for them to accept when they realize it is part of the readjustment process and not an attitude their loved one adopted while overseas.
Given time, most veterans will make the necessary adjustments and will get on with their lives, but sometimes it’s not that easy. Know that there are many programs available for veterans to help with readjustment. If you need help, please don’t be afraid to ask.