Reintegration: War’s hidden challenge
By 3G Syria Intern Luis Rivera-Nesrala
Rivera-Nesrala is a third-year student at New York University where he is studying Economics with a minor in Arabic. His chief interests are in geopolitical economics, particularly in regards to the Middle East. He is the son of an active-duty United States Army service member.
Nearly fifteen years after the unprecedented attacks of 2001 forced thousands of military men and women to pack their bags and head out over night, the landscape of U.S. warfare has been entirely transformed. Given the ongoing and evolving efforts to defeat those who seek to harm our nation, it is common for many soldiers today to have completed numerous deployments, some upwards of five.
While war and active combat are undoubtedly dangerous and trying situations, most of us fail to realize that the men and women who valiantly fight for our safety thrive in these conditions. This is where their skills and years of training are verified and validated. While those of us not in the service may find it difficult to imagine ourselves in such situations, the members of our five military branches are wired to excel in these high adrenaline environments where survival mode is always activated.
Herein lies one of the biggest misunderstandings for civilians: After performing in these high intensity, chaotic and often lawless settings for months and sometimes years, the most difficult part of fighting a war can be reintegration upon return. When these men and women return to the structure and comforts of the United States, after having lived in often war-torn nations, seemingly simple things like driving, being on paved roads, sleeping in their own beds, and next to their spouses can all be highly disorienting.
For those with children it can be tough to retake the role they played in their children’s lives before deployment, which is necessarily assumed by the parent who stays home. Returning to reassume these responsibilities can be a delicate act to balance and can place great strains on spousal relations.
For those with partners the process of acclimating to involving one another in daily routines and decisions can be trying after both individuals have learned to live independently for long periods of time. For others there is difficulty in returning to work and taking orders from fellow servicemen and women who have not had the experience of being downrange.
The problems of reintegration are difficult to foresee and can manifest themselves in many ways from person to person. The one certain thing, however, is that no man or woman who fights for this nation returns the same. While the recent overhaul of the Veterans Affairs Department by the Obama Administration has done a great deal to bring to light the neglect in care that many veterans experience, there is a great deal more that must be done.
Despite the need for improvement across the board, the most crucial of all of these necessary improvements is not one of policy, funding or program availability. Instead, it concerns the unspoken, institutionally stigmatized mentality that discourages these men and women from seeking the help that they need for fear of being branded unfit for service, combat or promotion and it must be fixed.
This looming expectation that each member return entirely unaffected only encourages the festering and worsening of these internalized trauma. Far too many men and women are thus driven to adopt the mentality to simply “adapt and overcome” in spite of the reality that many among them face challenges brought on by their experiences at war.
We have a pressing responsibility to the brave men and women in the service to provide them with the reintegration assistance that they indisputably merit. This should not be a political issue and if in war no expense is spared, neither should a single cent be withheld to provide programs like John Nash’s Combat Veteran Cowboy Up to those who need it. Programs like his are crucial to the healing process of those affected by the service because they provide the support of an empathetic system in which they find the company of others who share in the experiences.
While we must be sympathetic to the needs of our veterans, it should be clear that we will never fully understand what they have been through, what they have seen nor what they have done for us. Still, it falls on each and every citizen to understand the urgency of assessing and addressing the needs of our veterans. The men and women of this country selflessly defend every star and every color on our flag each day they don the distinguished uniform. When retirement or the expiration term of service sees them hang their garb and unlace their boots for the final time, it comes time for us to further extend our hands and return the favor. Supporting our troops is a commitment that extends far past the years of service and combat, and it is a duty that we must all make good on.