As a Veteran, returning to “normal” life after serving can be an adjustment. There are a few ways that you, as a loved one, can specifically be there for them throughout the transition. These adjustments can oftentimes take getting used to but with the support of family and friends, it can make the change easier. Below are some ideas on how you can support your Veteran(s) once they return from home.
Be There for Them 24/7
The role, locations, and events that took place while a Veteran was in the service can deeply affect them for the rest of their lives. Some individuals may feel comfortable discussing their time in service, but others may not feel comfortable doing so at first. Especially, if they experienced traumatic events. While we may never fully understand these experiences and their impact it’s important to create a safe space for your loved one that they can count on in the coming months and years.
Many Veterans will want to process these stories out of excitement, pride, or a need to let someone or anyone know what they’ve been through! However, we who have continued in our civilian lives, might not know how to listen. What about addressing the needs of those who are more reluctant to speak out about their time in service? The best we can do is do as much research as possible, find resources that help you better understand their experiences, and how best they might respond, and whenever possible, give them the space and opportunity to talk
If they need physical support as they transition from service, provide what assistance you can, and outsource whatever is necessary to help if you are unable to provide the necessary support. People can be stubborn, especially when in need of help. Try to identify physical needs that your Veteran requires before they ever ask, odds are they might never ask for help. Something as small as bringing them to an appointment, or doing some basic household chores can go a long way in providing relief. It may also be useful to look into assisted living communities so your loved one can have ongoing support.
Also, be sure to let them know that no matter what the issue is, mental, physical, or emotional, that you are there for them and will help in any way that they require. Whether it be a simple late night phone call to chat or a trip to the gym together, showing them that you are an unwavering support will help build the trust between you in the beginning.
Encourage Health Checks
Active-duty servicemen and women are required to undergo annual physical exams for prevention. Now that your loved one is no longer required to attend these checks, they may be tempted to avoid them for longer periods.
While many Veterans will report they are in “very good” or even “excellent” health, the 2022 Health of Those Who Have Served study shows they are more likely to suffer from higher rates of chronic pain or illness than their civilian counterparts. Keeping a close eye on existing and new symptoms, and reporting them to their primary physician is especially important as they may have been exposed to harmful toxins such as Agent Orange or other chemicals while in service that can lead to cancers such as melanoma, mesothelioma, or other lung cancers.
Some Veterans will be more willing than others to attend regular checkups and schedule appointments with specialists. Whatever your loved one’s attitude is, lead by example and schedule regular screenings for yourself, stay up-to-date on new studies, and give gentle reminders for them to do the same.
Spend Time With Them
Every year roughly 200,000 active service military personnel return to civilian life. Many return as very different people than they were when they entered service. Families might be tempted to expect them to re-enter civilian life with little to no friction, but with countless months and years spent apart, this may not be possible.
You might have a child who entered at the age of 18, who is now in their mid to late 20s, independent, mature, and with their own opinions of the world that may greatly differ from yours and even the values they held before service. Don’t force communication, but let them know you are available any time they feel like spending time with you or chatting on the phone.
Perhaps you’re a military spouse who moved around with your partner as they changed posts, and acted as a single parent while they were deployed. Make up for lost time with designated alone time to reconnect and establish new patterns of communication now that you are under the same roof for the foreseeable future. Start having regular date nights, or drop the kids off at school together.
Spending quality time, no matter the length or frequency can set your relationship up for success and enable your Veteran family member to thrive in their life after the military.
Every Veteran’s journey is unique, and the nuances of each situation should be acknowledged. By embracing these strategies—providing support, encouraging health checks, listening attentively, and spending quality time—friends and family members can play a vital role in aiding Veterans’ successful transition to civilian life. Ultimately, their dedication and sacrifices deserve to be met with the utmost respect, care, and understanding.